Friday, February 22, 2013

Our First Competition of 2013

This past weekend, Jax and I ventured out into the Michigan winter weather to compete in our first trial of the year. This was a C-WAGS Rally and Obedience trail hosted by Wolverine Dog Training Club, and held at Northfield Dog Training Club. I mention all these venues because they are all incredibly wonderful people who truly love the dog sports and work to improve them. I love competing with all of these groups.

First, C-WAGS is a rather laid-back venue. They are a group of people who love to train and compete with their dogs, but their trials are not as competitive as UKC or AKC. There is one huge difference in this organization, and that is you can reward your dog during a Rally or Obedience test. For this reason, I recommend the venue to my students as a place to get your feet wet; it's also great for new dogs just getting into competition.

This was my first time competing with Jax in this venue, so we entered Starter (level 1) Rally and Level 1 Obedience. On Saturday, we had 2 Rally tests and 2 Obedience tests. Both of our Rally tests were phenomenal, and I was incredibly proud of the way my boy performed - first place in both classes! Our obedience tests left something to be desired, but we did pretty well, considering.

Their level 1 obedience test is a basic obedience test with a few simple tasks. On Saturday, I missed the walk-through for the test due to being in the rally ring, and bombed our first test. Completely my fault. But, our second test was much better, since I already bombed a test and being able to attend the walk-through. First place in the second test. Success!

Our winnings from Saturday!

Sunday was a bit different. We showed up, and we competed in Rally, Obedience, and a fun class called Rally Zoom - it's rally with not stops, sits, or pausing signs.

In our rally test, we had a PHENOMENAL run. I mean, it was perfect. I left the ring beaming because we had done so well. I ran Jax back to his crate, gave him a big kiss and few cookies....and turned around just in time to see the ring steward right a big "NQ" on the board. WHAT? Our run was perfect! The gentleman I was crating next to must have seen the shock on my face because he came over to me and said, "You looked beautiful out there, but I think you missed that sign..." He pointed to the Down-Walk Around sign I had clearly missed. I sighed, admitted to my mistake, and we moved on.

I was still elated with our performance, and chose to focus on that rather than the fact I was the reason we NQ'd. The woman who did win the class was also elated to have won, because it was her first time showing in rally. If I had to lose, it was great to see her be so happy to win!

We placed third in our obedience test, because when I changed into a slow pace, apparently Jax did not change his pace. Still, it was a good test, he did really well!

Rally Zoom was fun! And it was also a great test! We placed 2nd, missing first by only half a point.

Our debut weekend and a tough contender with Team No F.E.A.R. was a success!

In other news, I had two judges tell me that Jax was ready to learn OPEN exercises. My little man proved that was was ready to move up to bigger and better things. Watch out, he's going to be a tough contender!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Let's Talk Dog Food

What does your dog eat? How did you come around to feeding your dog that particular diet? Do you feed raw or kibble? Dog Chow or EVO?

It's a trend now to guilt people into feeding "better" diets. You are criticized and chastised if you feed your dog anything less than a $100 bag of The Best Dog Food on the market. I was there - I used to be one of them. I am not happy about it. I am not on the receiving end a lot of the time. I know how to read god food labels, when I am looking for a food I frequent sites like and It is important to watch what is in your dog's diet and I am a big believer in feeding your dog a good, healthy diet.

Feeding your dog as a member of the family is important. A healthy diet will limit vet bills, as it contributes directly to your dog's health. As a friend of mine told me, "No one criticizes you when you're doing something right, but they will dog-pile when they think you're doing something wrong." And feeding your dog is one of those things that everyone has an opinion about now.

But, a lot can go into choosing the right food for your dog. There are a lot of factors to consider.

I am a supporter of raw food diets, but understand the limits of feeding such a diet. If you don't have any room for storage of frozen foods, it can be cumbersome and often expensive to buy foods once a week. It can be expensive to feed compared to kibble, in general, if you don't have any bulk suppliers in your area. It might just make you squeamish to handle raw foods.

As much as I want to feed Jax a raw diet I: 1) lack the storage to buy in bulk, and 2) Jax refuses to eat raw meats. I've tried all the tricks in the book. Weirdo dog.

When it comes to kibble, you might be dealing with one of two things: 1) lack of knowledge or 2) a budget. At least, these are the two I come up against the most.

One of my current students has a Golden Retriever who is 11 months old that came from a breeder. The old knowledge says to feed a "puppy diet" until the dog is at least one year old, but often until the dog is 2 years old - this isn't true, and more and more companies are coming out with "all life stage" diets. The breeder told her to feed Purina Puppy Chow. She's an older woman, and since the dog came from a breeder she didn't question the quality of the dog food. She was working with a budget, and so we settled on a better product within the Purina Pro Plan line - not the best, but there was an almost immediate change (within a couple weeks) in the dog's weight, energy level, and over-all appearance.

Dog food with goodies!

However, in some circles, I would be considered a horrible dog person for not recommending EVO or Taste of the Wild to my client.

I have fed everything from Diamond brand dog foods to EVO, trying to find something that would suit my dogs well. My older dog, Howie, had food allergies to contend with, so he was fed mostly raw with a hypoallergenic kibble to supplement. As I mentioned before, Jax won't touch raw, but I contend with an added problem of high metabolism and trying to keep weight on him. I tried Taste of the Wild, I tried EVO... but what he did best on was Purina Pro Plan beef formula. The former dog food critic inside me cringed with each bag I bought, and I was always in search of a "better" food, but each new bag I bought of "better" food would result in a 5-pound weight loss within a week of being on it.

We landed on Dr. Gary's Best Breed. No, it's not the "best". Yes, I've gotten flack for feeding it. But, my dog does fabulous on it. My dog needs grains to keep weight on. So, I end up giving up so-called "quality" to keep weight on my dog. And yes, I've tried Merrick and other foods with "quality grains."

In another scenario, my Aunt's dog could only hold down Beneful. She tried several times to switch him to better foods, but each time it would cause him to vomit - and so, she had to weigh the pros and cons, and in this case, a lower quality food was better than no food at all.

Another friend's Golden Retriever seems to be allergic to anything and everything he eats. She has been in and out of veterinary clinics for the past two years trying to figure out what was wrong with him. The only food that has brought some balance to his life as been the hypoallergenic Royal Canin veterinary diet.

In the end, it comes down to the dog (and human) in question. For families on a budget, Pro Plan is a perfectly acceptable mid-grade food, usually priced around $40 for a 50-pound bag. For others, they are feeding what they're feeding because nothing else works.

I do my best to educate about dog food. I know what "good" dog food is, and teach people how to read labels - what's good to have? What's bad to have? But, it ALWAYS comes down to the individual dog and their families. After all, as a dog professional, you are always schooling the humans, not the dogs.

Monday, February 4, 2013

When You Feel Like Giving Up

For much of January, I was in a rut. I was unmotivated. This tends to happen this time of year, when Michigan winters blanket us with grey skies, cold weather, and icy roads. I'd rather hole myself in my room, under my heated blanket, with Jax curled up in the crook of my knees.

It's tough, because it's so hard to get out and TRAIN my dogs. I have a tiny house, so I have limited indoor space to train in. The dog club I train out of has limited nights that I can stop in to work him, and it's 45 minutes away. And this is the first time that I've had scheduling conflicts with the local training club that is only 10 minutes away.

All excuses. None of them good.

I have never been much of an emotional person - except when I over-react. Except when I work myself into a panic over nothing. But over the last year, little things make me cry. I blame the residual baby hormones that haven't left my body (and probably never will, because I cried when my baby said "Mama" for the first time, and when she toddled toward me, taking her first steps). I cried at last night's Super Bowl Clydesdale commercial, choking back tears.

This morning, I was fighting back many urges to just give up and quit. This is hard stuff - being a grad student, working full-time, being a parent, AND trying to advance in dogs. Most nights, I just want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a warm blanket, but a baby needs tending to and a dog needs entertaining and homework needs to be done.

You might not have heard of Lauren Sprieser. She's a horse trainer who has been successful from a young age. She's inspiring, for having reached such high levels at a young age. Last night, she posted a blog titled "Before You're Good":

"I don't want to go through the learning part, the part where you futz around, making dumbass mistakes, then fixing them only to have something else go, and then try to fix that while the first mistake you made comes roaring back. I want each movement to feel easy, not like a mechanical process, where I'm reading myself a checklist in every corner - off my hand, legs forward, prepare, right bend, left thigh, neck down, eyes up, GO, repeat. 
And that's just too damn bad, because there's only one way to the other side of Being Good, and that's by Not Being Good for a while. 
... when the promise and the mission become really annoying, I will remember that everyone who's any good at anything was, at one point, not."
In addition to this little bit of enlightenment I had reading this this morning, I had an amazing training session with Jax last week before getting hit with the stomach flu for a second time this year. Jax loves to learn, and I love teaching him. he can be frustrating, because he is SO EAGER to do whatever it is I'm asking him to do, but this same trait is why I love working with him so much. What Lauren posted last night hits home - Sometimes it's frustrating to go through all the practicing of Being Good. A lot of times you want to throw in the towel. Often, there are very few people who are willing to give you a good kick in the pants to keep you moving along. Because sometimes, it is so frustrating that it just stops being enjoyable.

And who wants to do something that isn't enjoyable?

But the thing is, everything is not enjoyable sometimes. The key is remember all of those good times, all of those moments that make this all worth it - whether those moments are winning ribbons or "lightbulb" learning moments or great times with friends, or simply cuddling on the couch with your best friend. We all have off days. We all have hard days.

The key is, having the strength to push through, remember the good times, and get to the point of Being Good.