Spot On K9 Sports

Fun activities for all dogs

Age Spots, Part I

Today, I struggled with something difficult. It evoked such complex emotions – fear, grief, gratitude, love – a reminder that to be human is to be powerful yet humble.

Even when Jolie was very young, she was an old soul. People of all ages were drawn to her sweet demeanor, and of course, those cute little spots. (I once challenged a group of admiring boys to count them all. It sure kept them busy!)

As a Therapy Dog, she always sought out the person who seemed to need gentle attention. They were often sad, distraught or just plain tired at what life had been throwing them. She required nothing of them. They could pet her or scratch behind her ears or even hug her. Or not.

Jolie all dressed up to visit dog lovers at a nursing home

But mostly, they talked to her. They told her about dogs they’d loved, who had passed away or had to be given up when they moved into a nursing home. They reminisced about people and places and childhoods long gone.

One elderly woman began crying. She quietly confided in Jolie about how she had been sexually assaulted long ago. It was a powerful moment, an instant trust between two souls that I was privileged to witness.

Jolie is now 15 years old. She has been retired from Therapy Dog work for a long time, and from dog sports like agility and Rally obedience even longer.

I keep forgetting that she was only eight months old when we evacuated from our New Orleans bungalow in 2005, two days before Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees broke.

We had piled a petting zoo – four dogs and two cats – into our minivan, heading north for what we thought would be an extended weekend visit with family. The next time we saw our house, there was a brown, brackish water line at eight feet. A dead minnow was stuck to the siding, just below our bedroom window. Frogs greeted us from inside the house, buried beneath waterlogged furniture, books and clothes that would forever smell like the black mold seeping out from them.

Nearly fourteen years later, only one dog and one cat remain of the original New Orleans pack. Jolie is the last of those very special dogs. And she is ailing. It is not just the usual, cumulative pains of an aging body. She has congestive heart failure and kidney disease. When she walks, her stronger front legs paddle forward while her wobbly rear legs slowly stumble after. Her neck and her back look like sway bridges, tenuous connections to all the other body parts.

The sun was shining so brightly today that I mistook it for warmth. I decided to take a chance and bring along my sweet, weak girl to pick up my son from preschool. Hopefully, she could handle a mild adventure.

We met my son at nature preschool and walked to the playground area. The strong wind gusts snuffed out the rays of sunshine. Thankfully, Jolie handles cold surprisingly well.

There were lots of kids and moms at the playground. My son darted off to play with two small girls dressed in varying shades of pink. I enjoyed the luxury of just watching my dog sniff, breathe in, breathe out, repeat, as we slowly walked the perimeter where the playground and the woods meet.

I expected the usual rush of children – their curious parents not far behind – all eager to pet the real-life star of Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.” That didn’t happen.

To be continued …

(originally published April 26, 2019)


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Happy 16th Birthday, Darby Lynn!!!

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Our home is an infirmary these days, full of accomplished, retired sports dogs. They’ve earned the right to be ridiculously spoiled in their golden years. Darby Lynn, the naughty Dalmatian who started my passion for dog training, is 16 years old today. (As a rescue and Daddy’s girl, we picked Father’s Day for her birthday.) I had to learn so much to figure her out that I started Spot On K9 Sports and became a professional dog trainer. Sixteen years later, and she’s still an enigma!

We thought about celebrating a little earlier this year. She’s tough as nails but it’s hard to see her struggle. She is in perfect health other than weak back legs. When we attempt to pick her up, she often fights us. She’ll get up on her own when she’s good and ready, thank you very much!

Every morning, she totters around the perimeter of the backyard, surveying her domain. She spends most of the day in her plush sofa bed, a spotted Queen reigning over her loyal subjects. My best friend who knows our dogs well says it’s like the sea parting when Darby walks into a room. She rules with sheer presence. I can’t imagine not having her here to keep the pack in line and put life in perspective. It truly is the little things – like seeing her smile while sunning ourselves in the backyard today – that make us happy.

Darby Lynn, aka The Girl, we love you so much! XO XO

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Thu Agility Class Courses

Although the courses are numbered here, I deliberately did not number them for my students to encourage them to use muscle memory instead of relying on or being distracted by numbered cones littered throughout the course.

Across the board, with all four classes tonight, the biggest challenge I saw was keeping the dog’s focus. For one team, I suggested that the handler ask her dog to perform basic obedience cues such as sit, down, watch me or tricks so they could be connected right at the start line. Staying connected is much more important than accurately following the course.

If you didn’t set your dog up at a slight angle in line with #2 jump, and didn’t have a start line stay, dogs turned back toward their handler and missed the #2 jump. Some handlers managed with a push, which wasn’t pretty. I prefer setting the dog up to see the second obstacle and a solid start line stay. We discussed the importance of regularly reinforcing the sit stay rather than waiting for the dog to fail (i.e. self release) and correcting him for it.

For Excellent/Masters course, front crosses after the teeter and landing side #6 jump tightened up the line. Several dogs were not cued to turn tightly coming out of the chute and took the backside of #16 (red)/#17 (black) nonwinged jump.

For Open/Advanced course, I specifically asked the students to stay on the right side of the dogwalk so they could practice rear crossing #10 jump. In some cases, the rear cross was successful, but the handler pushed the dog so far out that he missed #11 jump. For those handlers whose dogs did not read the rear cross, I suggested an exercise that can be done without equipment. First, ask dog to sit in heel position and tell them stay. Cross behind them and reward if dog remains in a sit and just turns his head to left. Repeat with dog starting on right side.

The straight line of #13-15 (red)/#14-16 (black) proved difficult for green dogs who aren’t yet confident about sending ahead to obstacles, or dogs whose handlers had to babysit the Aframe contact and consequently, fell way behind.

The 180-degree turn at #16-17 (red)/#17-18 (black) caused several challenges. A couple handlers cued their dog to turn too soon, so they took the wrong side of the #17 (red)/18 (black) winged jump. Others went in too deep and pushed their dogs wide. On the Excellent/Masters course, it continued to the weaves. The entry required shaping if the dog had not learned an independent weave entry at such an extreme angle. A few handlers went too wide with the shaping and inadvertently sent their dog over #16 (red)/#17 (black) nonwinged jump. Other handlers didn’t support the entry enough and their dog entered at the second or third pole.

The section from the weaves to the end proved to be the most interesting and challenging. Nearly every single dog turned left coming out of the tunnel, even if the handler called their name from the right side. A few continued on to the dog walk! Only one team out of 15 got it right the first time because she treated it like a gamble, as indicated by the red dotted line. Her dog had independent weave poles, so she was able to send to entry, then fade to other side of dog walk. By the time her dog finished weaves, she was near the tunnel entrance and it was clear to her dog where to go.  She also could meet her dog at the exit to change his lead from left (which was the direction of the tunnel) to the right and complete the finish jump. It was an extraordinary and impressive strategy, which inspired her fellow students to trust their dogs to weave at a distance so they could fade, too, and be at the tunnel exit to change their dogs’ lead.


Wed Intermediate Agility Class

In this morning’s class, students worked three short sequences to focus on a specific skill.

We warmed up with the white circle sequence, handling the dog off the right side. The biggest challenges proved to be getting stuck behind the wing jump at #1, which pulled the dog away from the correct tunnel entrance, and getting stuck behind wing jump #6, which pulled the dog toward the teeter instead of the chute. Because the dogs are green, they required more support to commit to each obstacle, thus challenging the handler to be able to get ahead.

At the pinwheel (jumps 4-6), if the handler rounded off their path, their dog would not commit to the #5 jump. If the handler went past the plane of #5 to ensure her dog would take it, often the dog went too wide to make the #6 jump. One student asked where she should throw her dog’s reward after the #5 jump; it should always be thrown along the dog’s path, so heading toward the #6 jump, but not so close to it that the dog doesn’t have room to jump it.

Next, those students whose dogs could weave 12 poles performed the red square sequence, which is a weave gamble. The handler could not cross the line to assist her dog. Also, the weaves headed into a wall, and the #3 obstacle required a tight 90-degree turn, both of which could cause the dog to leave the poles too early. The remaining dogs worked their 2×2 weaves with round the clock entries.

The last sequence (dark squares) presented a number of challenges, including so much space between obstacles 1-3 that the handler would fall behind, causing the green dog to turn back. Also, the flips for the #3 Aframe to #4 tunnel (rear cross), and #5 tunnel to #6 dogwalk (front cross), required good timing by the handler to create an efficient turn. The steeper Aframe presented a challenge for most dogs to hang onto their two-on-two-off contact position, whereas they all stopped beautifully on the dogwalk.

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