Tuesday, December 11, 2012

6th Gotcha Day

Sunday was Vegas' sixth "Gotcha" Day. Wow. So much has changed in six years. My kids are practically grown - no way my oldest could fit inside a crate now! Six years ago I had no idea how far slobber slingers could fly. LOL I had no idea how bad dog gas could be. I thought Dobermans were big dogs.

And I never knew what loyalty looked like, pure love, and complete devotion. I love my baby girl with all my heart and don't know where I'd be without her.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Onward and Upward

A couple of weeks ago Vegas saw Dr. Salewski again. It'd been four weeks or so and given us a bit more time for him to see if the adjustments were holding. They did, beautifully. That last visit he only made minor adjustments, upkeep kind of stuff. He didn't feel like there was any reason from all he could feel and determine that she wouldn't be doing tunnels. Which left us with the conclusion I'd been considering...particularly after the trial we went to that weekend (October 27-28) that I'll try to debrief in a couple days. She was hung up mentally. In a nutshell, after running through pain in June at the CPE Nationals, Vegas now associates agility with pain - particularly the tunnels.

In the last couple of weeks we've been working on the tunnel sporadically at the barn but also at home. A friend loaned us her tunnel and it now lives in my living room. Ironically, Vegas runs through it with an abundance of energy and joy at home. At the barn she's been back and forth, her behavior somewhat baffling. Sometimes she'll run right through it - like last weekend at the barn. Others she runs around it and even jumps over it again, showing in no uncertain terms that she's not interested in tunneling.

So that's just going to take time, I guess. We'll start packing the tunnel with us places and continue the high reward rate with doing the tunnel. Right now her favorite tunnel treat is NW Naturals. Hopefully with doing it a half dozen plus times at home several times a week she'll also build up the muscle it takes to do tunnels again, too.

In other news we've been going to our obedience club to practice lately. Her heeling has come a long way and I'm so pleased. Our biggest issue is going to be distractions but somehow she seems to be less distracted in a super busy area like a competition than in the quiet ring with singular distractions. But, it's still something to work on. The main areas she needs some work at this time are:

  • Finishes - I just recently started training the finish. I was too caught up for a long time in a close front that I didn't pursue the finish. I need to get that rock solid.
  • Figure 8 - Mostly here I just want her to recognize where she has to pick up the pace (when she's on the outside) to keep up with me and not end up lagging. 
  • Down/Sit Stays - Well, same as always. She just doesn't want to be away from me. But, that said, she is getting there. The problem with downs is the comfort level. I'm going to try to figure out how to teach her to down and rock onto a hip or side so it's not so uncomfortable. Sits she's getting closer. 
  • Left turns - She's doing well enough not lagging that sometimes it means she's anticipating me going forward and doesn't read my turn. It basically means I'm running into her. 
The areas I'm really pleased with are: 
  • Pace transitions on the flat - She's really reading my transition to and from normal to slow and normal to fast. She's more engaged and watching me during that time. 
  • Halts - Her halts are awesome! Almost always close, prompt, and including eye contact with me. 
  • Recalls - Her recalls are prompt and enthusiastic. With that her stay for purposes of a recall are great. She's also working good at coming in close to me, too. 
  • Enthusiasm - As long as I remain patient and am able to correct her in a way that doesn't make her feel like I'm upset, she keeps a positive and engaged attitude. She's enjoying the work more than she used to. I do feel it works best to give her 3-5 minute sessions at a time even when we're at the club facility and then break, come out of the ring, and work on dumbbell stuff or just hang out, though, before going back to another couple of minute session. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Core Strengthening & Body Awareness

Last Tuesday we had an appointment with our favorite "on the ball" and "dog fitness" lady, Bobbie Lyons with Pawsitive Performance. Long story short, we have a lot of activities already to start doing and keeping us busy and I'm excited to do it. However, at this moment that sounds like a lie even to me cause I have a really bad headache and can't muster up the energy/strength it takes to work with V. So she rests a day.... But, when I feel well and get on it, we're going to do a lot. And I'll fill in the blog more about it then. For right now, here are the goals I can identify:

  • Tightening up her sits
  • Tightening up her downs (no wingy back legs; no leaning over onto one hip or the other)
  • Sitting without rolling back onto her hips
  • Straightening her back, not roaching
  • Moving her back feet independent of her front feet
  • Backing up straight
Here is the workout Bobbie prepared for us after our first meeting:

Below are the exercises that we talked about and a "schedule" that you can change to fit your life. This is just an example.    The goal is to do at least 3 days of strength work and two days REST (ok to walk, trot, & stretch on rest days) and not to do any strength work on the same day as agility practice.  ALL EXERCISES AND STRETCHES SHOULD BE DONE WHEN VEGAS IS WARM.

Observations/things to work on next visit: 
1. Vegas is really wide in the rear.  She defaults to a wide stance much of the time.  We will be working on this
2. Vegas has a slight roach in her back (possible Spondylosis, per Dr. Mike) Cavalettis will help to lengthen her out.  Next visit we will incorporate some back stretches.
3. Also next visit I would like to see how tight she is and figure out a stretching protocol that best fits her needs.
4. Vegas glides through the cavalettis and I truly believe this would really benefit her.   Cavaletti work can be done in place of trot work but not only half the time.   Lets talk about trot work next visit.


1.  Make Cavaletti's.  8-10 inches high... Minimum 6 but can make up to 12  - timed exercise to start at 5 minutes, back and forth through the poles.  Distance between each pole should be about 3-4 inches longer than Vegas is from shoulders to hips.   Once you have these we will build on the time spent and change up the spacing.

2.  Make PVC parking space.   Here is a video from my online class:  http://youtu.be/Arfcc8hSuLw

:   Stand/ down /stand/   and sit /stand.  We will work on the stand to sit later.  Spend 5 minutes 
This exercises teaches Vegas to engage her core/trunk muscles and starts the strengthening process.

Tues:  REST DAY but add Bow after a walk.  30 sec hold ...   Or  3sets of 10 sec. 

Wed: 1.  
Back up, keeping a flat back and REACHING with her hind legs vs swinging her butt back and forth. 
           2Weight shifting on the flat or on a plank...http://youtu.be/ZzULm0kW3v8   You want to work toward 5 seconds of constant pressure at     each shoulder and hip.   5-8 times each position. 
Backing up improves hind end awareness and distribution of weight.   Weight shifting teaches Vegas to engage her core/trunk as well as the supporting muscles around the hips and shoulders to improve stability
Thurs: REST DAY but add Bow after a walk.  30 sec hold ...   Or  3sets of 10 sec.

Friday:  Rotation exercise with front feet elevated on a balance disc, step stool or ??   Make sure that Vegas keeps a flat back  http://youtu.be/6i2nzZ9tYj0
Rotation exercises with front feet elevated engages the core/ trunk, engages adductor and abductor muscles (inside/outside of upper rear leg) and improves rear end awareness. 

Sat:  your choice.  You could do a combination of Mon/Wed or Wed/Friday

REST DAY but add Bow after a walk.  30 sec hold ...   Or  3sets of 10 sec. 

At this point it is OK to get more than 3 strength days in because these are light activities to get Vegas to engage her core and improve her rear end awareness.  Don't do more than 5-10 minutes in a session, however you may do two sessions on a day (like the weekend when you have more time, morning/afternoon or whatever.)

My favorite thing about all this is the compilation Bobbie put together. It's just the kind of thing I needed and am no good at. So I'm going to get my headache gone and get my act together for V. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blah - Obedience, Pumpkins, and Life

Kind of just been one of those weeks. Busy, tired, and more busy and tired. Monday we went to see Dr. Salewski again. He got quite a bit of knotty tightness out of her left shoulder and felt the acupuncture was helping to release some of that tension, etc. to allow the adjustment. He worked further on her sacral region as well. So here's the hitch in our giddyup. If, when we go back again a week from tomorrow and she's not fully adjusted yet, he's less confident that she'll be returning to her normal activities/life. So mental bummer and I think, while reflecting on this, it's saturated my brain and sort of depressed me this week.

I don't remember what Tuesday had in store for us but Wednesday was supposed to be my son's football game. That got canceled mid-afternoon so I suddenly had an evening free. But not for long. The first Wednesdays of the month are our obedience club meetings and I hadn't been able to make one in a while so off I went! It was nice to see people, catch up on business, find out what's coming down the pipeline, and chat with some friends.

Thursday I came home from work and immediately loaded the dogs and took them to my son's school for a walk. We had about 45-60 minutes to walk our legs off. So off we went on the Tonquin Trail at the Graham Oaks Nature Park
Friday night was chill time again and Saturday morning brought us to our obedience club and another novice match. I entered Vegas in one run each Beginner Novice and Novice. She was fourth or fifth in the first group and I have to say, I was quite pleased with her Novice run. Our heeling still needs work and I'm continually luring/baiting (treat in my hand on my abdomen), but, it has promise and she was very amenable and happy in the ring. She's starting to learn a finish, too, which we've been lacking. All in all, fairly good.

Beginner Novice was a bit later and after I'd come and gone with Leo a couple times and she was stressing in the truck. Definitely didn't have the attention there that I'd like and she got up from her sit and I had to return to her and start again.

Things to work on at this point:

  • Heeling - starting to reduce the treats and build longevity with focus behavior.
  • Speed transitions - not forging or lagging with the changes. 
  • Continue working on finish behavior.
  • Down stays - need to teach her to rock over on one hip when I ask for the down stay and hopefully added comfort will help her to stay down.
  • Close proximity on recall
  • Halts; I want to work on greater consistency with sitting straight. Also speed to sit. 
Things I'm pleased with:
  • Stand/sit for exam - As much as V loves people, she's holding this really well and not shifting feet or asking for attention when they come to her. 
  • Sit Stay - She almost made it through the entire minute for the sit stay with me all the way across the ring. 
  • Attitude - I'm learning while she's learning so always a bit more difficult. She's still showing a positive, enjoyable attitude while working. 
  • Sit/Down Stays - She doesn't pay any attention to the other dogs. They don't exist; she keeps her focus on me. 
  • Halts; she almost always is prompt with the sit on halt. 
That brings us to today. We went to the Bella Organic and Portland Pumpkin Farms for their Oregon Ducks corn field maze. I'd gotten a special through Living Social - just $7/two tickets. Vegas and Juicy came along. 
The main thing I have to say about this little adventure is: hot. Turn down the heat. We're still near to mid-70s in Oregon and after so many months of dry, warm-hot temps, I'm done. It's October for crying out loud. I think the dogs agree, if the long tongues are any indication.
At one or two points Vegas was leading the way through the maze. It was really cute; she was plodding along and when we came to an intersection she would usually look all ways and very decidedly make a choice. She even helped us locate a podium where a clue was found for the Farm Scene Investigations game.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Today I took Vegas back to Doggie Paddle for another swim session. I decided since it was difficult to get her into the pool that I'd be better off sticking with an "assisted" swim session again. Once in the pool, she did pretty well. Again we restrained her position a bit to have her swim in place. Following the same protocol as previously, we rested her after a few minutes. After that she seemed less interested in swimming and continuing to kick her back legs so we tried something else. Julie was at one end of the pool and I at the opposite. We called her back and forth between us and helped turn her if necessary. Worked like a charm! Rested her every few minutes for a minute or so each time to avoid overheating and kept on swimming. She seemed to like that a lot better!

In addition, after her last break she actually came off the ramp into the water herself. That's a big step cause she goes from solid ground to all water, almost like a drop off. She hesitated, thought about it, and just went with it. Good girl!

In other news, she had an acupuncture treatment on Wednesday. Rachel came over and brought some vitamin B as well. She did not care for the vitamin B injections so much...she says those needles are ouchy! (Even though they were just allergen syringes, she didn't like it at all.) But, she felt good afterword, went for a nice walk on Thursday evening, and swam today. Headed to the agility barn here in a while to see how she holds up this time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Highs and Lows

Monday last week (9/17) I took Vegas to see a well-known veterinarian who practices acupuncture and chiropractic and can pretty much diagnose bone and joint pain and injury by feel. Originally I had thought to get x-rays done by our regular veterinary office but decided not to in the end, instead waiting it out to see Dr. Salewski.

So after a chaotic work day and attempts to get out there (Carlton is a teeny, tiny burg nearly an hour from my house and way out in the country.), we arrived about ten minutes before appointment time. His office is in his home and when he let us in, Vegas curiously meandered her way through the house to the office. After talking a bit about what brought us there, Dr. Salewski got hands on to start figuring out what was going on.

During the course of his examination and adjustment, he was surprised a bit with how much "movement" he got in her T2 area. In doing a bit of research so I understand better, the T2 is a part of the thoracic spine. See images below.
Seeing where the T2 is, it makes sense why she's so sensitive to the tunnels. Just try drawing your shoulders together, pushing your chin forward, and "ducking" your neck. Feel your upper back/lower neck area. If you have any discomfort or sore muscles at all, you'll feel it. Something serious, you'll probably flinch. 

From there, he asked about the slight bump in her central spine, about how long it'd been that way. I didn't have a good point of reference....as long as I could remember. I keep her extra lean, just shy of bony to avoid additional strain on her joints with all the activities we do. So long story short, he feels she has a bit of spondylosis going on, which, as I learn, isn't abnormal at all, particularly in giant dogs and giant, active dogs. And it isn't a major thing; we just need to maintain back health. With Vegas, the spondylosis is in a small section of her dorsal/lumbar area of the back. I'll try to get a side profile picture of her at some point soon to show what it looks like. 

Last but not least, she was off in her sacrum area on the right side, enough so that her hip was a bit uneven. So he got her all adjusted and the "big" question: How soon before she will be back up and running/what's the prognosis? Dr. Mike said.... two weeks! WOWZA. That is so not what I expected to hear and I was at once utterly relieved, overwhelmed, surprised, and excited. 

My dear friend, Rachel, came along for the ride and to visit with Dr. Mike. She'd met him a couple times during her veterinary schooling. They chatted a bit more and talked about how else we could treat V. Rachel has offered to do acupuncture on Vegas. She got some more ideas from him on what areas to needle and even doing some V aqua acupuncture using vitamin B. We were told to take it easy on Tuesday, Wednesday to do acupuncture if we could, and by the weekend I could take her out and play agility - not a full trial, mind you, but some practice to see how she'd do. 

Sooooooo, we didn't get to acupuncture Wednesday or the rest of the week. I took her biking a time or two, a romp at the park, and pretty much business as usual after Wednesday. Saturday we went to the barn. Our first time in months and months and months. She did okay. Mostly okay. She had fun and was happy and that was awesome. She took a tunnel a couple times, jumped over one or two, avoided one or two, and took another and I called it good before she tired. She seemed like the a-frame was bothering her - probably from the impact hitting it - as she didn't progress over it smoothly. Instead she stopped at the top, something she just doesn't do. She was a bit slow in the weaves a couple times but was willing to speed up with a lot of encouragement. Perhaps all that was about is getting back into the swing of things. She handled jumps of varying heights well including some bounce jump sets. All in all, good, but also not 100% and a sure sign that she needs a bit more work, healing, and time. 

We have another appointment with Dr. Salewski next Monday. Rachel came over last Sunday for acupuncture and is getting together with us again tomorrow. Our next trial, is still uncertain as is the invitational. I just want her well. One thing I know, her retirement is imminent. I'm not going to risk the long term for the short term. So while I believe she'll heal and be able to finish her two championships, I am not going to push and pursue more. She deserves better and there are lots of other activities we can get involved in - even though agility remains the sport of my heart. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Warm Water Swimming

Today Vegas and I went to Doggie Paddle, a warm water, indoor, therapeutic pool. Things started off a bit....rough. I had scheduled a couple days ago and put our appointment on my phone/Gmail calendar. This morning, in addition to the swim session, we had to get up early and go pick up our sardine order. In my head our appointment was 12:45. Was just loading up the truck and Vegas and logging the address into my GPS when I got an email from Julie, the owner. She was wondering where we were. Our appointment was 11:45...that was right about noon. S()#*$)*!)

After starting the drive there and repeatedly calling her until I got a hold of her, we rescheduled for 2 pm. Whew - we still got to go.

So we arrived and there was someone else there; we had to wait just a couple minutes. Then we went inside, I got changed in shorts, Vegas suited up in her life jacket, and we went into the pool.
Despite my going into the pool, she was still hesitant to get in and it took both of us initially to get her to walk down the ramp and ease her into the water. Initially Julie had one side of Vegas and I just moved along with them trying to keep in Vegas' line of sight. Eventually I had one arm across the chest band of her jacket and one on the handle to keep her stationary in the water. Not too long into our session, Julie turned on the jets. The jets provide more resistance during the swim. She said one minute swimming in the jets is equivalent to a five minute walk.

Every five minutes or so we would move her toward the ramp and let her rest. We learned pretty quickly we needed to let her rest rump first so she didn't climb out of the pool. She checked Vegas' ears for temperature and we monitored how she seemed to be doing to make sure she didn't get overtired. All said and done Vegas swam for about 25 minutes or so and had a good time. I think she enjoyed it and will get more comfortable each time we go. I prepaid a five-pack of swim sessions as I know I'll take her back and it'll be good to keep her conditioning up while we deal with her back issues.

Couple of notes... the pool uses a salt-water filtration system eliminating swimming in a bath of chemicals. You can read more about it here. After Vegas got out of the pool, Julie put drops in her ears to help dry them out and avoid risk of an ear infection from moisture. She also misted a spray onto Vegas' coat to help prevent her from drying out. And last but not least, while I came prepared with Vegas' life vest and towels for her and me, Julie has it all - life vests for dogs from 3 pounds to 180 and loads of towels. I highly recommend this activity for any dog, nice weather, cool weather, healthy or recovering from injury, young or aging. It's a non-impacting activity that is really good for conditioning, strengthening, building muscle, and maintaining health. And places like Doggie Paddle are a wonderful asset to our training toolbox.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Doing the right thing

Doing the right thing isn't always easy. That's a life lesson most of us have learned somewhere along the line.

Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult, embarrassing, causes a hit to our pride, or causes us to be out of our comfort zone. In dog sports, opportunities to make the choice to do the right thing present themselves regularly. For instance, when your dog doesn't respond in the way you expect or wish on course. You are presented with an opportunity to respond in a way that respects your partner, respects other competitors, respects the judge, and shows positive sportsmanship.

So what got me rambling about this topic? With Vegas' injury, it got me thinking about how many dogs out there are performing with some degree of pain or possible injury. How many are persevering simply out of pure heart? Dogs that would do anything you asked just because they are that loyal. Competitive dog sports offer us, as handlers, many benefits. They enrich our lives. We become closer to our dog through training. They give us an outlet for our collective energies. They give us an opportunity to shine, to showcase our skills, progress, teamwork, and to earn recognition. Our dogs may love the sport, but they do it because we ask it of them. They could, in theory, hit the agility course and take obstacles for fun. But they - most of them - would soon tire of the game by themselves. When they're not running with you, racing you, looking to you for "What next? What next?" the game is less rewarding. So they do it for us. They do it with us.

So when they are hurt, no matter how slight, they give us an opportunity to do the right thing. The right thing is to give up whatever our hopes and dreams and goals are with our sport, and make sure they are well. First and foremost, they are our partner and our family. The dog walk, the jump, the teeter - they are tools of our trade. The slip lead, chicken hearts, and tug, nothing but tools and aids. But our dog is our partner, our friend, our loyal companion. He or she has been and can be with us for many, many years. So we owe it to him or her to stop, seek medical attention as applicable, pursue diagnostics, follow-up treatment, acupuncture, chiropractic, surgery (Dog forbid!), massage, hydrotherapy, and rehabilitation - whatever it takes to help him or her regain wellness.

This is the time to showcase love and not blind competition. And if that means retirement, that small potatoes compared to continued damage and harm to the one who will give it all.

Vegas would give it all unless she couldn't. She has run not feeling well for me before. She has run, and tried, and forgiven me for asking it of her. While I face down uncertainty until we see the doc and get a diagnosis and treatment plan, I accept that she could have to retire just before affirmed greatness. But it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing because she is already a hero. She is already a star. And she loves me so much, so uncompromisingly. I want her with me for many, many more years. I want her with me happy, comfortable, functional, and alive in the way that her indomitable spirit shines each day. Doing the right thing doesn't have to be painful when you think of it as an act of love to the one who gives it unfailingly.

I don't know what I'll find out Monday. I don't know whether we will be a success story ranked by MACH points and titles but I know we'll be a success story in that I made the choice to do what I had to do for her so that I could have her healthy with me as long as possible. And as I look over at her crashed out on the couch, snoring softly, the right decision is really easy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Insert Swear Words Here

@!()$*)#*))!* @!)*U$)#*$)*!!)* 0808!)*$#)(*!))!)(q!)!)!!
That's how I feel right now. I'm so frustrated and upset and angry and sad. Mostly sad and while beating up on myself doesn't help anything, it's how I feel for now. But I'm doing something about it and I guess that's all I can do.

I mentioned in June a little bit about Vegas' back injury but due to time constraints lately, I never expanded upon it. Long story short, she came up lame in April. Best I could ever determine as I know she didn't do anything specific on any activity we were involved in, she tweaked her back while "zooming" in the house. For anyone who's witnesses/experienced/enjoyed a fit of Dane zoomies, well, you know it's likely and we should all stop them. But wow she has a blast when she does it and clearly needs to burn off steam. But I digress. So she zooms pretty regularly, probably a couple times a week. I remember her spinning out at one end of her inside-the-house track and her rear went one way and she clearly had told herself to go another. Nothing big and dramatic, but that sight played itself in my head once she came up lame. A tweak, like slipping off a stair and torquing your back.
So ever since then, she hasn't been able to run agility. That was April. We had May off due to no trials near us and were supposed to run in June three weekends. The first weekend, as I mentioned in that June post, I was uncertain if she'd be okay. I'd been resting her and massaging but she wasn't limping or off enough that I felt the need to seriously pursue medical attention. She couldn't run let alone jump so had to scratch her from that trial. My super awesome friend, Rachel, called in some prescriptions for us for anti-inflammatories, pain meds, and muscle relaxers and she was on strict rest orders. I wouldn't even let her come upstairs; oh the insult, she had to sleep downstairs.

Scratched her from the next trial and again from the one two weeks after that - she just couldn't do it. I'll come back to CPE Nationals sometime this week to explain what happened there.

So now, all this time having passed with July and August usually being off or very light months anyway, she was entered to run last weekend at a local NADAC trial for just a day to see how she was doing after rest and rehab, then the next two weekends in AKC. Since June and her rest and meds regimen, I've been working on maintaining her endurance and heart health (which has the dual benefit of preventing her from driving me crazy of inactivity) by biking, walking, hiking, and going to the beach, etc. Basically anything that wasn't jumping and agility active like. She's been fine, felt fine, jumps in and out of the back of my truck, on the bed, romps over trees in the woods on occasion. I've also taught her to swim albeit we didn't get to do that but twice as our weather was hot but not unbearable where the river would provide relief, and done ball/core strengthening work. I've also been stretching her and massaging, doing light body work, etc.

So NADAC....just two runs, Chances and Jumpers, to test the waters. I'll cover that in a bit more depth with another post, too, but suffice it to say: epic fail. Clearly her back is a lot more sore than I could have possibly guessed and the impact of contact obstacles and crouching for tunnels made her hurt badly. Enough to limp on a leg even. Hence my #()*Q)*)*!)#*$)(*!$!*)%)&!(*) feeling.

Tonight Rachel came over and gave her an acupuncture treatment and has offered to do so again in a couple of days. I also made an appointment to see Dr. Salewski at Hindsight Veterinary Care. He comes highly recommended by any who have seen him and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. Since making the appointment this morning I have also emailed him to ask if he feels my taking her to get x-rays at our regular vet between now and then would be effective/helpful in diagnosing her. I did, of course, already withdraw her from both of the AKC trials I had entered her in.
I'm heartbroken, sad, and feel that I failed her. This has gone on for five months. I thought I was doing the best I could at the time and didn't feel like whatever she'd done was so severe that with rest and my other attempts I couldn't help her restrengthen her back to overcome this. I was wrong and now I've wasted so much time. I know I can't do anything about that now but I will forever regret it. I just hope I haven't caused permanent damage and that she'll be able to make a comeback. As I told Rachel today, if I just got to see her run one more time and do so happily, with drive, like I am accustomed, I would be thrilled. To see how disinterested she was this weekend, due to pain, to see her not like the sport any longer because of that makes me so sad.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Training a Giant in a Mid-Size Dog Sport

Agility is a sport designed for Border Collies, Aussies, Labs, perhaps Corgis, Papillons, and a few other breeds. It is not, was never, will never be designed for the giant dog. That does not mean that your giant dog cannot participate and even succeed. What this means is, you just have a different process to observe than will someone with a small to medium sized dog. Here are a few important points to remember:

General rules:

  • Seek out an experienced, knowledgeable, experienced trainer. What does that mean? Well, quite frankly, have they accomplished high level/championship titles with any dog? What level are they competing? How long have they been participating in the sport? How were they trained? Observe classes. Don't be afraid to walk away from a trainer/facility if they don't want you to audit classes and ask questions. Does this person continue their training education? Agility is changing all the time - true, the obstacles don't, but somebody somewhere is always coming up with new ideas about how to train an issue, obstacle, or criteria. CE is really important for any educator. 
  • What venue(s) are you interested in competing in? If you're uncertain, do your homework then come back to this question. A trainer should be at least fairly familiar with the different venues available for competition. E.g. My obedience trainer is aware of basic differences in UKC and AKC obedience classes. Therefore, if I were to have an interest in competing in UKC, she could help me to be better prepared. 
  • What is your goal? Do you know yet? Often people start agility with the goal of just learning and seeing if they like it. Does their dog like it. You don't have to start thinking, "I'm going to earn a MACH/C-ATCH/NATCH." But if you want to just play with your dog, is your trainer understanding of that and willing to give you his/her best anyway? This can be important too. 
  • Safety. Agility can be a danger to you and your pet if you're not careful and follow safety rules. Is the class/environment safe and does the instructor focus on safety for you, your classmates, and the dogs? If not, find another place to train. 
  • Should you choose to become competitive once your training reaches that level, does the trainer or facility offer options to help you? For instance, do they have fun matches or offer help in filling out your first trial entry forms? Do they host seminars and other training events to help you increase your knowledge? 
Giant rules: 
  • What breeds does the trainer have experience with? 
    • If they only run small or medium dogs, who have they worked with? Talk to them. Ask the question: At what age should I start jumping my Great Dane? If their answer is, "Not full height until they are at least two years," well, full steam ahead as they seem to have a clue. If they say your (giant) dog can start training as early as six months including starting jumps, they most likely don't have a clue about the growth cycle and differences inherent in giant dogs. But, and this is a big but, feel free to continue pursuing the conversation. If it appears they know that no full height jumps should be done until 18 months plus, then perhaps they'll work out okay. By all means, I'm not saying people can't put their foot in their mouth, but if you have to educate them on your breed's basic limitations, they're unlikely  to be knowledgeable enough to help you with other training challenges. 
  • Will the trainer/class accommodate your big dog? 
    • For instance, if a sequence is set up that includes three tunnels, will the trainer understand you not training the tunnels, at least repetitively? That you only want to do one a class or only when your dog might refuse them perform training drills to make them fun/rewarding? 
    • How about contacts? Your 6, 9, 12 month old giant puppy should not be doing full height/angle contacts. Contacts, particularly the a-frame, can present quite a severe angle. This is hard on any dog's joints but particularly our giants who are not done growing and solidifying at that age. Shoulders are of particular concern as is the neck/spine. Your trainer needs to be able to work with you training on the flat and/or at training height on all contact equipment until the dog is mature. 
    • Weaves - a giant breed (or any maturing dog) should not be weaving A) excessively and B) before maturation at full speed. Weaves require a great deal of spinal flexing. If you YouTube and watch some videos you'll see how much side-to-side motion is involved in the back. You can see this a bit here - pay particular attention at 50 seconds as the view is directly from the rear:
This is just a snippet of ideas that have been cluttering up my brain lately. I hate to see dogs hurt. Our Danes can be just as fabulous in their own right as any other dog in any other performance activity. But there are things to be aware of and to know ahead of time. You can begin training in agility quite young - with any dog. But there are limitations. You can do ground work (working on the flat), teach verbal queues, teach hand signals, teach them to work from a distance, work on a start line stay and release command, teach them to go away from you, come back into you, touch your hand, and to enjoy training. But you must wait for certain parts of the sport - you musn't go "extreme agility" until the dog's growth plates are closed. For giant breed dogs, this is usually between 18 and 24 months. Not waiting could cause permanent damage that will hinder his or her ability to live a long, healthy, comfortable life. 

To read more, visit JP Yousha's website, ChromaDane: http://www.chromadane.com/AGILITYTRAIN.htm

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Beach Bummin'

We got to go to the beach the other day!!! It was so much fun; well, except for driving there. I don't like driving places. It makes me all nervous and my mom gets cranky. So does my boy. But we went to the beach!!!!!!

Chasing seaweed grasses that were flying down the beach.

"I'm cooo----mmmmm---ing, Mom!!!!!"

"I not looking at you..."

Squeaky sand is fun!