This is where I'll keep a blog of our daily or weekly adventures.

Chasing Confidence

Dogs are strange and beautiful creatures.  It is well established that they  were first domesticated no later than 13 thousand years ago, but more likely earlier than 30 thousand years ago. It doesn't take a leap of faith to understand that dogs have played an important role in humankind's success.  They sounded warning when predators neared prehistoric human encampments.  Later they joined us on the hunt to, track, flush, tire, hold, or retrieve the protein we needed to nourish our developing brains. They protected our flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.  They chased away would be predators thus allowing us leisure time to develop agriculture and, later, civilizations. My dog is no less amazing to me and has played an important role in my personal development.  As Margaret once commented early in her relationship with Chloe, "she doesn't care if my hair is brushed or if I've taken a shower; all Chloe cares about is if I spend time with her or not."  I don't pretend to understand what motivates Chloe to want to be in the same room with us stinky primates or to stop chasing a deer when called, but she does;  it could be that our cooing words, my rough play, or Margaret's gentle touch are incentive enough.  With Chloe in our lives, Margaret and I have gained confidence in our relationship with each other — strong before Chloe, stronger now.  Our dog has exposed our better and worst selves through grand successes and soul robbing failures, and, more subtly, through our small victories and minor setbacks.  What confidence she has taught us, we hope to offer her.

Six months ago, while working with Lisa Maze, she suggested that we enter Chloe in some kind of active dog sport with the notion that competition would help build her confidence.  She pointed us in the direction of sprint racing and Barn Hunt.  After all, Chloe, when first off-leash, would dash off in full sprint trying lure Lisa's pack with her — poor Morvin would always look back at about 20ft  wondering when he was going to get called back — so sprint racing seemed the ideal confidence builder for our energy-filled dog.  To test the idea we did some lure coursing with Chloe at Performance Dogs In Action and her enthusiasm for chasing a plastic bag neared on crazy.


Chloe chasing lure at Performance Dogs In Action,  Pleasant Grove CA. April 2014

Chloe chasing lure at Performance Dogs In Action, Pleasant Grove CA. April 2014

With this revelation we sought an all-breed sprint race and discovered All Breed Lure Sport Association run by Lucia Corace.  Because Lucia is also is an approved Barn Hunt organizer and her sprint races often precede and follow Barn Hunt trials we decided to enter Chloe in Barn Hunt, too.  We had no expectations.  

Two months after Chloe's first Barn Hunt she earned her Open tile (RATO) and  now  we are heading to the Sonoma Fairgrounds to help her earn her Senior title (RATS).  In two weeks we'll be in Carson City to help her either finish up her RATS title or to pick up a leg or two towards her Master title (RATM). All of our trainers are right, Chloe is a better dog because she is more confident. She is more confident because we work hard to help her build it.  Road trips, hotel stays, tug play, wrestling, clear instructions, high expectations, competition, exposure to new things, training, training and more training have helped build her confidence and ours.  Our dog is a reflection of our hopes and fears and forces us to stand toe-to-toe with the mirror she holds to us — not to be confused with the mirror that she plays with the alternate dimension Chloe — and have been given us the opportunity to build better selves.  Dogs are strange and beautiful creatures but more amazingly, so are the people who work with them. 

Chloe California earning her RATO title, Fairfield CA. June 2014.

Chloe California earning her RATO title, Fairfield CA. June 2014.

Failing to See Our Successes

June 27, 2014

Sometimes I forget why we compete Chloe in dog sports. To those who have seen her, it obvious that she requires exercise to release the tightly wound spring of energy that makes her exciting. Once purposely sprung, she is an amazing creature to watch play and, when she wants, to watch work. 

To those who have interacted with her, Chloe is more than simply a high energy dog: Chloe is a nervous dog, a tentative dog around people. Chloe is, however, eager to learn new things -- like most dogs, first in the comfort of her own home.

Our trainers have a different image of Chloe. Chloe is a highly distracted dog -- such is her misfortune. Though generally quick to pick up a new behavior, her attention falters with the passing breeze. Some trainers who we work with explain to us that her tendency for distraction is because of her attentiveness. Though none have explicitly stated, I believe that they also think that her attentiveness also makes her prone to nervousness. To help her, each has told us that we need to forge a stronger relationship with her and to build her confidence.

Thus I lay the groundwork for my trail of failure. Our training is not generally without a grand purpose; competing her in Rally or Obedience are our lofty goals. We train her to build her confidence so that she can compete because that has the compounding effect of further building her confidence.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to take Andrew Ramsey's Train the Trainer course and was excited (nervous) about competing Chloe in her first nosework trial. As always, Chloe was hyper to be someplace new, she is not a mellow dog, and she was overwhelmed by her environment. When it came to our turn to find the scent we failed miserably. Though weakly, Chloe did indicate the correct box, we spent the rest of the allotted time meandering about. I was horrified. I was embarrassed. I wanted to run from this place and hide from my shame. 

Margaret and I spent the rest of the day hiking and talking. She asked me why we compete our dog. (We are both introverts and find it difficult to be around a lot people for too long, so competitions are trying.) We trial her because it builds her confidence. 

Chloe didn't fail me, I failed her.  She was confident out there, not nosework confident, but Chloe confident. She didn't run from strangers, she even sniffed a hand or two. She stayed in a freaky hotel and walked amongst real working dogs. She is an incredible creature and she is inching her way to being a confident dog. All I need is to remember that we compete Chloe to help her on her journey. 

Chloe relaxing in the shade, near Euchre Bar trailhead.

Chloe relaxing in the shade, near Euchre Bar trailhead.

Working for the Run

This week ends with an off-leash hike in Tilden. We didn't participate in any organized training this week, but did a lot of work on Chloe's “stay” command. Margaret worked on Chloe's “bang” trick. It turns out that Chloe is quite the drama queen; instead of dropping at the cue, she slowly drops to her side and gently lays her head to the ground. She is Shakespearean in her delivery.

This week we were able to run three days for twelve total miles. Over the next few months we will increase our weekly mileage to 35. We’ll monitor Chloe's endurance as we slowly up our time on the trail. Last year she did well, but suffered on the warmer days. This year we have noticed a change in how Chloe approaches the run.  To help Chloe understand that she is going for a run and not for a hike or to do longline work, we use a pulling harness. We believe that when she has this harness on (and there is tension) she thinks that she is working.  So much so that she will ignore dogs, rabbits and quail in favor of pulling my fat-self along the trail. If she does get curious, she simply gives a quick sniff and I mush her along; she happily complies. If it is a leash-free trail, after a mile or so, I can detach her from me and let wander ahead of us to sniff and do her dog dance. 

All things considered, it has been a pretty fun week with our Dober-girl. We played in a field near Jack London Square, posed with White Fang, played in the sand, gave her a bath, and had an 100% off-leash hike. We did some running, training and had some fun morning walks. Next week we return to some organized training and get her ready for another Barn Hunt competition.

Fog rolling in behind Chloe near Volmer Peak, Tilden Park.

Fog rolling in behind Chloe near Volmer Peak, Tilden Park.


Chloe, Mare Island

Chloe and I haven't been back to Mare Island since we were there with Andrew Ramsey and the gang.  We stopped by the old military base as a detour on our way to Sacramento to visit Margaret's parents. Chloe was so excited returning to this space because I think she had a great time doing nosework training.

Chloe and Albert on Abandoned Tennis Court; Mare Island, CA

Chloe and Albert on Abandoned Tennis Court; Mare Island,CA