Scentwork, obedience class, and a play date!

SCENTWORK

Yesterday was a long and hot day, but it was a happy one. We went back to Ladybug’s very favorite scentwork class. It’s too bad it’s only once a month. 😦 I’d skipped our morning walk as we had obedience class and a play date afterward, but this was a mistake. She was so overexcited for class, impatient for her turn, and thrilled when she got something right. I’m actually not sure if she understood that she did something right (meaning something we wanted her to do) versus she thought she was being allowed to play and explore. Either way, it was great!

We pulled up quite a bit late, thanks to some ridiculous rush-hour traffic…on a Sunday morning. What the heck? Instead of being stressed, I took her for a quick stroll while waiting our turn. First up was the car search. I was quite excited as Ladybug nearly exploded with joy at doing it last time.

This time, though, our teacher increased the difficulty. Instead of bits of chicken lunchmeat stuck to the car, Ladybug had to find a small piece of cloth scented with cloves, truffle oil, and one more thing. She was confused at first, decided she wanted to say hello to another dog, and looked at me quizzically. Since I didn’t know where the scent was, either, I was lost. Ellen pointed out that the item was in a wheel, so we went backward. Bingo! Ladybug pounced on the bit of cloth, tore it out of the wheel, and shook it with glee. (Fair enough, as she was allowed to shake and play with the scented sock last time.) I asked if I should give her a treat as a reward, but Ellen said Ladybug had decided to reward herself with a play. πŸ˜€ Fair enough!

We went inside the barn and practiced the very beginnings of a “freeze” to how that our dogs had found the scent. Ladybug was given a plant pot with a bit of scent taped inside. She was supposed to put her nose inside the pot, get a click, and get a treat.

Well! Little Miss Ladybug had different ideas. She wanted to pounce on the plant pot, bite it, shake it, throw it, paw at it, and jump after it. While hilarious and endlessly amusing (for both of us), it sort of defeated the purpose of the activity. Ellen suggested holding the plant pot high enough that Ladybug couldn’t do those things, and it worked.

Ladybug went outside for a short walk. When we came back, she sniffed at the cars next to the barn. Ha! She wanted to do another car search! Even though finding squirty cheese (the second round of car searching) didn’t interest her as much as the chicken last time, she still thought it was great. As soon as this hot weather fades, I’ll have to let her do a car search again. πŸ˜€

Ladybug was very impatient for her turn each time. I guess that’s an unexpected disadvantage of her becoming comfortable enough not to need an entire side of the barn to herself. Last time, we had several short walks around the property plus some grand games of chase, tug, and follow the flirt pole. That helped to tire her out and (for her) make the waiting time pass by more quickly. Plus, she was so excited about playing with the sock that she had no interest in anything else for quite a while. I did let her play with a toy for a bit, but she desperately wanted to go into the work area.

Her first turn was both confusing and amusing. She had to find a scented article inside a taped-up box, and there were about eight options. I think last month she only had four to six boxes, and one side was open. I think Ellen knew that Ladybug had found it, but I didn’t see the change in her behavior. (Still learning to read her.) After getting praised, she got so prancy that she tried to play with all of the boxes. Oops! Last time, Ellen had told me where the box was. It was much harder this time when I didn’t know, but it was more realistic for scentwork trials. (Ladybug won’t be ready for that for quite a while, but never know. She certainly shows interest.)

She seemed confused when entering the ring both times, but Ellen said not to worry. Last time we expected her to pick up the sock and play with it. This time, she didn’t get the immediate reward of play, and it was harder for her to find the article.

She was still excited, though! She was quite sorry to follow me back to our area (thoughtfully blocked off with gates and blankets to minimize distractions as Ladybug probably would have spent the morning lunging and trying to get into the working area), but we had a good play.

OBEDIENCE CLASS

It was blasted hot by afternoon, and my daft little dog refused to drink water. Why? Dunno. I tell her that God gave her sense, but she chooses not to use it. πŸ˜› She was VERY unhappy with me when I dumped water over her back to cool her down. Look, if she won’t drink the water, what am I supposed to do?

She’s still ready to trade me in for a nicer model. πŸ˜›

Since we now have a few months until the silver exam (sigh), I’ve now taken the canny collar off for good. I still keep it in reserve if we have to walk on a narrow path crowded by cars and/or other people, or if Ladybug gets out of hand. But, ideally, I’d like her to be done with the collar permanently. Now that we’ve weaned her off the collar 95% of the time, she absolutely hates when she does have to wear it. She won’t look at me, freezes, and her entire body stiffens with sulky indignation.

I can’t bear for her to fear me. Even if it’s annoyance rather than fear, she clearly hates the canny collar. I’m not above taking it out now and then when her pulling gets completely out of hand (particularly when there are lots of cars), but I’d much rather she learn to settle down on her own.

So…for the first time since the bronze exam, we did our obedience class with just a regular collar. She was great! She flipped out when we practiced relaxed isolation, but the teacher and I discussed ways to help her get used to it gradually. There’s a dog (another poodle!) who won’t give her space, but for the most part she’s handling it well. Or, to be more accurate, the dog’s mum keeps crowding Ladybug. Not really sure why.

PLAYDATE

We visited a water park (here, a nature park near water…not an American water park with slides) with our new flyball friend and her adorable springer spaniel, Lucy. The little dog has a tail that never stops wagging! I’m not sure if it’s a springer spaniel thing or a Lucy thing, but she makes me smile. She also shoved an entire piece of bread into her mouth at once (leftovers from someone’s duck feeding).

Oh, and little miss Ladybug has now decided our friend, Tracy, is a great target for attention. She jumped up asking for fuss. I nearly told her off for jumping (I don’t like that behavior as so many people won’t appreciate it), and then I closed my mouth. After all, we’ve worked long and hard to get Ladybug to trust the flyball team. I guess it means I have to allow some naughty behavior in the process. πŸ˜› Ladybug got treats, fuss, a little flyball mini practice session…and even a little jump into one of the van crates! I stood there open-mouthed. Ladybug has been terrified of crates ever since she was thrown into one as a baby. Her pal Lucy was in the next one, so she decided crates were the fun place to be. Wow!

(Little miss babybug has decided she needs attention. More later!)

Lazy Saturday

It’s been a hectic few days! After a hard night’s sleep and a quick trip outside, Ladybug is napping. πŸ˜›

After the amazing events of flyball and visiting a friend (Ladybug allowing someone else to hold her leash with increasing confidence, and even letting me go to the bathroom while she waited outside with my friend), we went to agility and puppy yoga yesterday with excitement and some tiredness. Well, maybe just me. πŸ˜‰

For agility, we had a substitute teacher. I was quite sniffy at the idea (how will Ladybug manage with a stranger for just one class), but I also didn’t want to miss a class. Every week there is a new challenge, and I don’t want Ladybug to get behind. It was hard for her to skip a week of weave pole practice (not because we were absent, but because we didn’t get a turn). I’m not sure what we’ll do when she’s spayed. I don’t have anywhere we can safely practice at home, and equipment is super expensive.

Happily, my doubts were for nothing. Amy, the substitute teacher, was great. I especially liked how she explained everything instead of rushing dogs through the obstacles. The disadvantage is that we only had time for three obstacles in the class (we usually do more). Yet again, Ladybug got shortchanged with time. She got to do all three obstacles this time, but as the last dog for each obstacle she didn’t get as much time as the dogs who went earlier. I’m a bit frustrated with that but not sure how to handle it. I don’t want to be the annoying complaining student, and I don’t want to be the helicopter mama who says my little baby isn’t getting treated fairly.

The first obstacle was the tunnel. This time, it was set up at a slight curve. What made me hesitate was the instruction not to throw the ball inside. (I’m guessing because it wouldn’t go around the curve?) As Ladybug only got over her fear once I threw the ball into the tunnel last week, I didn’t want to push her that fast. I was being over-protective, though. She did run back out the tunnel the first time, but I think that was more about my fear she’d get scared. She was desperately eager to go in but confused by my hesitation. The second and third times, she bolted through the tunnel and jumped for joy at getting her tennis ball. I wish we had gotten to try it at least one more time as she hadn’t gotten any tunnel time last week, but I guess she had achieved the goal.

The problem is that she runs out and wants to say hello to the other dogs afterward. Part of that is classroom management–the dogs and people were standing too close to us. Part of it, though, is my needing to work on her recall. (Sigh.) It’s so much easier at flyball when there are other people helping us, and it’s easier at obedience class when she’s on the leash almost all the time.

Second obstacle was jumping over the poles. This time, they were set slightly askew. She was supposed to run in a straight line, but it meant jumping at an angle. She was perfect. Like superstar, got it right on the first try brilliant. She did it perfectly once. Then got confused on the second try, but that was my fault. I timed my throw (of her toy) badly, and I made her think she should veer to the right. Then she did it perfectly for the third attempt.

What bothers me about the class is that the dogs who go before her might take several attempts to get it right, but everyone cheers and applauds when they do. They take up lots of time, but no one begrudges it. But when Ladybug gets it right on the first try or struggles to learn something hard for her, our teacher has either given up or no one cheers her on. I’ve noticed that the others are all much friendlier with each other than with me. Is it racism? Anti-Americanism? Ageism? Or they just plain don’t like me? 😦

The one couple who’s been really nice is moving away (they were absent yesterday). The poodle parades around getting into everyone’s way, but no one minds. I was really annoyed as I’d gotten Ladybug settled, relaxed, and totally calm while she waited her turn. The poodle came right over to us, and her mum and dad then stood right next to us. Ladybug got upset, started barking, and was jealous that the poodle was able to run around while she couldn’t. I had to move far away to try to get her to relax, and she never did. She was too annoyed that all the other dogs were getting a chance except for her.

After the pole jumps, twice Ladybug went up to another dog. At one point, the other dog growled at her. The looks on everyone’s faces! Even the teacher said that it wasn’t “nice behavior” (although, to give her credit, she told people to give us some space and not to make a fuss about it). People were crowding her. Maybe not by their standards, but by Ladybug’s standards she was being crowded. She was annoyed at having to wait so long for her turn, the poodle had gotten into her face multiple times, and she needed to run.

I really hate being made to feel as if I have the unruly problem child. That hasn’t been the case in agility class so far. Our regular teacher did start off by making sure people gave Ladybug plenty of space, but she’s gradually become comfortable enough that she doesn’t need it as much. I guess we were all a bit unsure having someone new come in, and especially for myself I was irritated at the poodle. (Full disclosure: I grew up with a poodle. I have nothing against poodles, but this one does irritate me–particularly because she does tend to get more than her fair share of class time. She behaves just as badly as Ladybug, if not worse, but she’s older and slower so no one gets annoyed with her. Plus, she has two people with her helping to manage when she prances around.)

The next challenge? Getting used to the sound of the seesaw. Amy had a great point that the sound can scare dogs (especially my little scaredy cat), so we needed to teach them that it was a positive thing. She pushed the seesaw down, and as soon as it made noise we gave our dogs treats. First attempt? Ladybug freaked out and barked. I moved her quite far away. Second attempt? She didn’t freak out, but she did bark and lunge. Moved her so far away we were practically out of the class area. This time, she turned her head at the sound but happily gulped the treats I gave her.

My real problem with the class was the third obstacle. We’ve never been on the A-frame (looks like the top two sides of a triangle, taller than my head, and the dogs go up and over it). In the first class, I was shown how to help teach her 2 on 2 off, meaning her back feet are on the A frame while her front feet are on the ground. In the beginning, they’re supposed to hold this position. It’s both for safety and an agility regulation (they lose points if they don’t make contact in the specified zone). Since then, we’ve done nothing on the A frame. I was quite glad of this because it’s tall and scary! I didn’t want my baby going over and maybe getting hurt.

No one else seemed to have the same worry. Others have been guiding their dogs over the obstacles while they wait their turn, but I’ve never allowed Ladybug to approach the A-frame. She’s confused with the 2 on 2 off because we’re working on box turns at flyball. They’re both at an angle, both on a rubber non skid surface, and completely opposite with their goals. In flyball, she needs to do a U-turn up, around, and back down the box. In agility, she needs to slow down enough to stay in position.

The hardest part is that I can’t find any way to teach her this position at home. She can do it brilliantly on a flat surface, and we’ve practiced that for ages. Wonder if I could find some non skid material? I don’t think I could safely have her practice at an angle at home, but at least it would be the same texture.

All of the other dogs went up the A-frame. Oh wait, one didn’t. But all of the others did.

I should have said, “We haven’t done this, and she’s not ready.”

Why didn’t I? I hated causing a fuss, everyone was looking at me, and no one else pointed out that we hadn’t done the A-frame yet.

Against all of my better judgment, I allowed Ladybug to go up and over the A-frame. I was terrified. There’s no safety rail or guard, so she could have fallen. She wanted to go (of course she wanted to climb), but she was tentative. I’ve never allowed her to go that high before, and I didn’t know if I could catch her if she fell. What if she broke bones and had to go to the hospital? I was a mess!

My little scaredy-cat fears the sound of water dripping off the garbage can, but she made it up and over the A-frame. She jumped off without doing anything close to the 2 on 2 off position. Even a few repeats didn’t help. I am a bit frustrated about this because we were shown this the first day and not since then. It’s been almost two months, so it was too much to expect.

But…see…all of the other dogs did it.

I really wish I would have spoken up. The class can be so unfriendly, though, and there was still quite a lot of judgment hanging in the air (because Ladybug had gone toward another dog twice). Stupidly, I allowed my embarrassment and awkwardness to win. Lesson learned. Ladybug’s safety trumps my concerns of embarrassment.

In more positive news, puppy yoga was great. πŸ˜€ Ladybug wasn’t focused on working and wanted to play with her toys instead, but that’s okay. We had a lovely time. It’s great going to class and knowing that she can do whatever is best for her at the time. No dogs interfering with her, no waiting around, and no enforcement of rules that are too hard for a dog of her age and temperament. Biggest accomplishment: she allowed me to run out of the classroom for a couple of minutes, leaving her alone with our teacher. She wanted to know where I was, but she was okay! Huge deal. A first since the hospitalization. With another dog it would be no big deal, but for her it’s yet another sign of her developing trust.

After our first month-ish of agility and flyball, I still think Ladybug prefers agility. She was desperate to play. However, I think I’m starting to prefer flyball. It’s so much nicer to train when we have people helping us with everything. Plus, everything is broken down into tiny steps. I appreciate that we always get an amazing amount of attention and help, as opposed to agility class where we wait 50 minutes for 10 minutes of instruction.

But…flyball seems much more injury-prone than agility.

At this point, we don’t have to make a decision. We’re still so early in the game that attending beginner classes for both is feasible. It’ll be interesting, though, to see where we are in a few months’ time.

So far, flyball has had higher highs and lower lows. Agility has been more consistently stressful for me, but Ladybug’s motivation is off the charts. Now that she’s getting a better idea of what’s expected of her at flyball, though, she’s much more enthusiastic.

Wonder what she’ll pick in six months’ time?

How fun to think of her in six months, rather than worry endlessly whether she will die.

Ladybug, the Mighty Puppy Warrior Princess.

And the little girl who heals me.

 

On learning joy from my puppy

In the last few days, something lovely has happened.

Ladybug has begun to trust.

After I wrote Sunday’s blog post coming to terms with all the reasons I’ve unwittingly needed her to be fearful, something inside of me relaxed. So she’s timid and skittish. So what? If she were a human child and scared of strangers, I wouldn’t push her. I wouldn’t blame myself. I’d watch, wait, and let her tell me when she was ready to push her boundaries.

I also felt the most enormous sense of relief. Once I realized that my fears (and hers) were about desire for safety, I also realized that it’s a silly idea. Being fearful might have kept pills out of her mouth a few months ago, but being fearful would also have meant no agility, no flyball, no scentwork, no puppy yoga, and no puppy play dates.

I’m scared.

So is she.

And that’s okay.

Since then (of course, it helped that I no longer had the pressure of her silver exam in a week), I’ve told myself that we’ll go at her pace. A new friend told me that her nearly two-year-old border collie still won’t let anyone hold her leash. This is a dog who is accomplished at flyball and great at recall. One of our teachers said that her dog never did any of the obedience exams because it was too stressful.

I like taking Ladybug to the obedience classes because (except for the one teacher we hated) it’s a place where we can practice everyday life skills in small, manageable steps. With the one exception, we’ve had teachers who are down-to-earth and realistic about what to expect from young puppies.

I realized, though, that the silver exam had become something I felt we had to do. If it hadn’t been for letting someone else touch her, she would have passed. She’s not ready to let someone else touch her.

And that’s okay!

Look at how far she’s come with everything else.

If she never is able to take the silver exam, we can still learn everything from the gold class. The certificates are a nice, objective proof of all the hard work we’ve done together…but the learning is more important. We’ll move up to the gold class and enjoy a new challenge. Getting to stay with our current (fantastic) teacher means I won’t have to worry.

In this frame of mind, and after having finally conquered a major obstacle of my own, we went to flyball ready for anything. We’d had one night of stress and fear (the first night) and one night of surprising fun despite our fears and worries. I had no idea what to expect for Practice #3, but I was prepared to let Ladybug be clingy and fearful if she needed. (“She’s fine!” a new friend reassured me. “Ladybug will do great. You, though, we’ll have to work on.” Cheeky! πŸ˜› ) We’d had two play dates with team members, and I’d learned more about how the team and practices worked. She’d had some success with the chute lying flat (easier to get onto the box and turn around), and she loved it.

We arrived to practice almost 20 minutes late, but the more experienced dogs were working. That meant we had plenty of time to walk around the field. As far as Ladybug is concerned, we go to flyball practice so she can sniff everywhere, sneak a nibble of grass when I’m not looking, and gallop after imagined squirrels. She met the guy who helped us with the chute the first night (and has barked at ever since), but this time he had his absolutely gorgeous border collie with him. Ladybug judges people by their dogs, and she loves every border collie she sees (gets heartbroken when the older ones won’t play with her). She was fine with anyone who had such a lovely dog!

Our new friend had brought a harness for us to try. It has a handle, so people could grab onto that rather than touch her body when we practiced letting someone else hold her. Our goal: Someone else would hold her while I walked to the other end of running lane. I’d call her to me. She’ll gladly sit and stay/wait while I walk away to call her to me, but she wouldn’t let anyone touch her leash.

Until this week.

Lisa and Tracy started off with some hardcore spoiling. After asking my permission (which I appreciated!), they fed her treats. Not just any treats, but sausage. Even mummy doesn’t let her have sausage. πŸ˜› After a few bites, Ladybug sat herself right in front of Lisa begging for more. (Shameless minx!) I laughed and said, “Okay, you have to give her back at the end of the night.” Lisa laughed and said she’d see. πŸ˜€ The first night Ladybug saw Lisa, she barked her head off. (Of course, it didn’t help that I was stressed and in tears at her barking.) This time, Ladybug was relaxed, excited for the treats, and calm.

During this time, a few other team members wandered by and gave Ladybug treats. She was like a little kid at Christmas! It was soooooo cute. I could not believe how much of a fuss everyone made over her. Even if she never gets to competition level and/or if we can never afford all the expenses of competing, I will always be grateful that these kind-hearted people took the time and effort to love my dog. It makes me teary just to write this! After all the negativity, all the awful things people have said and done to her (and me)…to have her welcomed as “just a dog,” an excited dog who wants to play flyball! is amazing. They like that she barks, even! Especially last week when her barking was mostly excitement to play or annoyance that other dogs got to play while she didn’t. (Flyball is technically work and a job for her, but she doesn’t know that. Either that, or she’s a workaholic. πŸ˜€ )

Anyway, Lisa and Tracy took turns holding Ladybug’s leash/harness while I walked to the other end of the running lane. She yelped the first time I walked away from her. It killed me to walk away, but even with my back turned I could hear the difference in her barking. It wasn’t the frantic, panicked distress she’d given in obedience class, where she’d jumped waist-high and nearly hurt herself in contortions to get free. No, this yelping/barking was confusion plus annoyance that I was walking away. She’d just had three people focused solely on her, and I was leaving. How dare I? I still had to bite my lip and blink hard as I walked forward.

By the time I got to the end of the lane, I turned around and saw her pulling on the leash. I took out her reward toy (poor little stuffed toy won’t be long for this world πŸ˜› ) and called her to me. She ran like a maniac and jumped all over me! I laughed and hugged her. We repeated the process, and this time her barking was excitement/impatience rather than confusion. Third time was even better.

It’s the same skill we’ve practiced in obedience class and flyball, to wait and run to me when called. But this was the first time she’s ever let someone else hold her back. I could not believe it! (Life lesson from Ladybug: Bribery gets you everywhere.)

Then we worked on the chute. We started with the chute (I have no idea why it’s called a chute when it’s a square piece of wood…) flat on the ground. She’d forgotten that Tony had the lovely border collie, so she barked her head off. (Sigh.) I made the offhand joke that he would need to have his collie with him, as Ladybug had been fine then. Of course, I was joking.

Guess what?

He actually went to get his dog!

I could not believe it! Sure enough, Ladybug calmed down and began working with enthusiasm. He even came and stood right in front of the chute, and she didn’t mind. He gradually raised the chute until it was at a 30 or 45 degree angle, and she did just fine! Then put a foam pool noodle in front of the chute so she’d actually go onto the chute instead of just stepping forward.

Ladybug did great! Me, I got dizzy. πŸ˜› Again, I was too slow for her and she hopped onto the chute to tell me to hurry up. I had to keep stopping and shaking my head to clear it. (I have no idea how other people do this without tipping over.)

At the end of practice, Ladybug had a great end-of-leash play wrestle with Reuben, a 6-month-old border collie. They were a perfect pair. Ladybug is so small that she was only a tiny bit bigger, and their temperaments were a great match. After playing for quite a while, Lisa told Reuben that was enough. Ladybug was crestfallen, but she perked up later when Lisa suggested letting the two have a bit of fun.

Holy crap.

So this is what “zoomies” means.

The two raced around in big circles. Ladybug and Reuben were well-matched for speed and strength, but he didn’t have quite the same body control as he was so much younger. He fumbled once in a while, and she had to adjust her stride to match his.

But…

My little babybug raced around the flyball field.

Pure abandon.

Pure delight.

Absolute, 100%, utter joy.

No fear.

Two days later, I still can’t believe it.

Oh, and a postscript…we met a new-to-Ladybug human friend last night to celebrate my success on Wednesday. One soft, squeaky toy and a walk in the park later, Ladybug actually let my friend hold her leash! And…and…and! My friend was able to hold Ladybug’s leash while I ran into the bathroom. Just a token whine, but no panicking, yelping, or trying to escape.

Just amazing. Absolutely amazing.

My scaredy-cat baby is growing up. Becoming more confident.

And so am I.

On teaching my puppy fear

I know it’s silly, but I feel like I’ve failed my dog.

We’ve worked so hard on so many aspects of her training, and she’s come a long way. She’s more confident, more relaxed, and more able to adapt to new situations.

Except for one thing.

She can’t or won’t tolerate someone else holding her leash.

She can do every single other item on the silver exam list perfectly. Lie down and stay for two minutes? She could go for longer. Recall? Perfect. Walking to heel? She can even do it off lead (even if she proved me a liar today by making a run for it when another dog ran first). Road walk and crossing the street? So easy that we’re bored with the practice. Getting into the car? She doesn’t bat an eyelash.

She’s perfect at everything, but she flips out when someone else takes hold of her leash. The only exception is at the vet’s, where she will let a nurse or vet lead her back to the exam area. Agility class, flyball, obedience class…nope. Nope, nope nope.

For the silver exam, she needs to allow the examiner to give her a mock check-up, similar what a vet would do.

Until Ladybug’s one-year exam, she had been perfect for vet visits. Maybe a bit skittish, maybe a bit timid, and maybe slow to warm up. But with a little patience and kindness from the vets and nurses, she was fine.

For her one-year exam, though, she hid behind me (I sat on the floor with her and the vet) and growled. Just a tiny token baby growl, but she’s never done that before. Barked at the vet or nurse when they interrupted my visitation time while she was hospitalized, yes. Growl, no. Not even a teeny one.

Since then, she’s refused to let anyone else near her.

She’s gotten better in just two flyball practices about letting people get close to her, but she won’t let anyone hold her leash. She’ll sit and stay if I unclip her lead or lay it on the ground, but she panics and jumps the second I give it to anyone else.

I don’t know what’s wrong!

I do think it’s now become a cycle because I’m anxious she’ll freak out, and she is quicker to freak out because I’m anxious. I tried stroking the leash to calm her (a tip from our puppy yoga instructor), but it only helped a little. Saying anything (soothing, reassuring, etc.) made her more nervous when our obedience class teacher tried to approach her.

She did better this week than last, but she still didn’t want him holding her leash. She was willing to follow him–up to a point–as long as her leash trailed on the ground, but he was not allowed to pick it up.

When we paired up in class to switch dogs and conduct a mock physical exam, our teacher specifically teamed me up with a nice, thoughtful dog mummy who has a lot of experience. I stayed close to them so Ladybug wouldn’t panic (thinking I was abandoning her). Total backfire. She flipped out, first with jealousy that I was touching another dog. Then, she kept jumping in sheer panic trying to get her leash away from the other dog’s mum.

The other mum was super kind about everything. Our teacher came and took the other dog to help us out. Ladybug was willing to let the other mum come close as long as I held the leash, but she still only permitted a quick hello and stroke. She ate the offered treats gladly, but then she began barking.

After class, our teacher spent a good deal of time trying to coax Ladybug to trust him. She did pretty well, but once he attempted the physical exam…nope. She barked at him and got upset.

I don’t know what to do! I don’t know anyone nearby who can help practice touching her. In agility class, we just work on obstacles on our own. Flyball will help a bit more, as one of the early goals is to allow someone else to hold her until they let her run toward me. That’s still not to the level of conducting a mock exam, though. Puppy yoga and scentwork are both 100% about giving her space and time. I love that I don’t have to worry about anyone getting too close…but that also doesn’t help her get used to someone else touching her.

Someone pointed out to me last week that I am Ladybug’s most vulnerable point. I’ve always thought of it the other way around. If anyone wants to hurt me, or if anyone wants to force me to do something that’s not right for me, hurting her is the best way to do it. I nearly signed a false confession because I was threatened with divorce and refusal to pay Ladybug’s medical bills. I either signed saying I had committed all kinds of wrong things that I most certainly had not done, or Ladybug would die because I wouldn’t have the money to pay for her medical care.

It’s true that I will do anything and everything to protect her. But it’s also true that she will put her life in danger to protect me. She’s trusted people who hurt her. Why? Because I told her to trust them. She encouraged a sick, violent man in the park to chase after her. Why? Because he was threatening to kill me. Those are the most extreme examples, but she will do anything to keep me safe.

I think she knows, in her wise but innocent puppy way, that I’m not safe. That I can be hurt and am being hurt very badly. It’s Mother’s Day in the US, and I’m isolated from my mother, my mother-in-law, and my stepchildren. For no reason but spite, I’ve been banned from seeing the two children who mean more to me than I can ever say. My mother will only talk to me if I never mention my wife, and my mother-in-law has not spoken a civil word to me since she learned of our engagement. My wife never once stood up for me while her mother insulted me.

I live in constant terror that we will be evicted, I won’t be able to pay rent, and I’ll lose Ladybug. She’s all I have. She’s the reason I can get up in the morning, and the reason I can sleep at night. I say that I’m okay and she doesn’t need to protect me, and that it’s unfair for her to carry that burden. It should be true (and I want it to be true), but it’s not.

Poor little dog. She should have been roaming the hills, herding sheep and enjoying glorious romps in all weather. I feel guilty that she’s cooped up in a tiny apartment with nowhere to run in peace. She’s stuck with me, a worrywart and unhappy mum whose life keeps falling apart more and more.

Our obedience teacher says to give it time. That she’s fine with everything else, and she will come to it when she’s ready…and not before. He suggested that we postpone taking the silver exam and there might be another date available at the end of the summer. He’s concerned that pushing her now will cause setbacks for later, and I’m afraid she’ll have a bad experience at the exam. My only concerns were having a new teacher who may not be right for us (the teachers switch around after exams) and spending the next few months working on all the silver stuff that she can doΒ  already. Boooooring!

He said that he will switch to teaching the gold class next month, and he’ll let us move up. That way, we can work on gold exam material while Ladybug works through her fear of other people touching her. With luck, she’ll be able to take and pass her silver exam in a few months. Even better, we’ll be learning something new in the gold class. He said he’d give special permission for it as she’s clearly demonstrated her readiness for new material.

I’m relieved she won’t have to take her silver exam next week (the original plan), but we won’t be stuck in the silver class.

But even so, I worry.

How do I teach Ladybug that the world is safe…when it’s not?

How do I help her trust other people…when I can’t?

How do I encourage her to let other people touch her…when I no longer trust people touching me?

A man I considered a friend and brother, the man who invited me to live in his house and was supposed to give me a job…

I will never get back what he took from me.

I taught Ladybug to trust him implicitly.

I allowed my wife to tell me for months that I’d imagined things, he wasn’t a bad man, and I was being too sensitive and expecting too much.

I let someone touch me, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be whole again.

How can I teach my puppy to do what I cannot?

How badly have I crippled her with my fears and issues?

How can I say I’m doing everything I can to give her a good life…when she’s saddled with my past?

I don’t get an ego boost when she clings to me rather than letting someone else take her. Of course I want her to come back eventually, but I’d love for her to have more people in her life.

But the people I’ve introduced to her life so far…well, it hasn’t turned out well.

I taught her to trust people who hurt her.

She allowed them to hurt her because I said they were okay.

I did to her what my wife did to me.

Except Ladybug nearly died.

That’s what it is, isn’t it?

I can never forgive myself that she almost died. I may not have fed the pills to her or left them in her reach, but I left her in care of the person who did.

If I hadn’t taught her to trust that person…

If I’d let her be wary, scared, and timid…

She might still be whole.

She might not have had to endure the months of trauma.

Maybe part of me wants her to be afraid…

Because fear will keep her safe.

Will it?

It’s keeping her from doing a lot of things that she would enjoy.

But fear would have kept those pills out of her mouth.

Maybe she’s afraid because I feel safer with her fearful.

The world is full of danger and bad people.

Don’t get hurt, baby.

I can’t bear to lose you.

(But what kind of life is it…to always be afraid? For either of us?)

 

Another play date, agility class, and our first yoga class!

It’s been a busy few days! In fact, I meant to blog about a few events but didn’t have the time. We had our second-ever play date, fourth agility class, and a new puppy yoga class.

PLAY DATE

Goodness…if I’d known how much fun puppy play dates are, I would’ve joined flyball long ago just to make puppy mama friends. Yesterday, we met up with a member of our new flyball club. She brought her lovely border collie, Sky, and sweet springer spaniel, Lucy. Unfortunately, we were too busy playing to take photos. Ladybug, much the baby and outsider, struggled to keep up with two well-trained dogs as they wrestled with each other, play fought, and went their separate ways. In the end, she went on her flexi leash for a good romp while the other two ran after tennis balls, sticks, and shadows in the wood. Weather was wonderful (if a tiny bit hot) with blue skies, fluffy clouds, and not a drop of rain. Ladybug panted the whole way home. I was glad I kept her on the leash, after all. How lovely to enjoy a walk with a new friend (for both of us)!

AGILITY CLASS

Our agility class was both frustrating and exciting. Big excitement: She’s conquered her fear of the tunnel! Woohoo! Our teacher’s tip to try a ball (rather than stuffy toy, which is hard to throw) worked perfectly. The first time I threw the ball into the tunnel, Ladybug was so excited that she got in the way. The ball only went about 1/4 of the way into the tunnel. I expected her to stop once she got the ball…but nope! She charged through to the other end. Came out, laughed, and went right back into the tunnel for another trip.

Wow! Where was my little scaredy cat? She was spooked by everything about the tunnel for the first few weeks. Once a ball came into play, though, she had no fears.

“Collies and spaniels,” our teacher said. “A ball will do it.”

I wish I’d brought a ball for our first class!

Other than that, Ladybug was hyper and desperate to play with all of the other dogs. She’s the youngest dog by far (one dog is 18 months and another is 2 years, and the others are all older), so everyone except the 18 month old ignores her. Poor Ladybug! Pluto, the 18 month old lurcher, loves her, though. They have a good play wrestle at least once a class. Sadly, he’s moving away at the end of the month. 😦

We did another try of running over the poles toward a toy. Perfect. Running over the poles set in a wagon-wheel half-circle. Perfect! In fact, our teacher had to tell me not to make Ladybug sit first as she (Ladybug) was eager to run. I thought I had to put her into a sit first, as dogs always begin with a sit for the competition runs I’ve seen at Crufts. Then again, we’re still such beginners that it’s probably more important to encourage that excitement. Ladybug was quite disappointed at only getting to do each pole exercise twice. She would gladly have done them again…and again! (She was born for agility. πŸ˜› )

We had more trouble with the weave poles, but this wasn’t Ladybug’s fault. Last week, the class ran over and Ladybug never got a chance to try them on an easier setting. She’s done them only once when they were spread apart as far as possible. They’ve gotten a little closer each week, but she had to jump from easiest setting to more difficult. We struggled a few times on our own (honestly, I wish we’d been given more than two attempts with help from our teacher, as Ladybug hadn’t gotten any tries at all last week). Then, all of a sudden, Ladybug decided she would walk through all the poles…while on her leash! I hadn’t even asked her to go in. She did it perfectly two more times while I stared at her in surprise. She got lots of fuss and praise for that. She does like to surprise me!

We did try a bit more with the seesaw on our own (while waiting for others to have their turn at different equipment). She’s quite happy to clamber onto it without any treat or encouragement, but she isn’t careful about looking where she steps. I’m not sure how to handle that. I didn’t want to encourage bad habits, so we stopped after a bit. I don’t want her to climb onto the seesaw and fall off!

I tried a little bit more of the 2 on 2 off for positioning at the end of the A frame, but she got confused with our box turn work from flyball. Since nothing in class has been working on the positioning yet, I figured it’s better not to confuse her. We did a couple attempts at the chute/box turn work for flyball (ha, in agility class!), and then we moved on.

At the end of class, Ladybug had a fabulous play wrestle with Pluto (on lead, no less!) as we walked out.

PUPPY YOGA

It was great going to our first puppy yoga class because we both feel 100% comfortable with Ellen, our teacher. That’s not something to take for granted! I’d gotten to visit the class two weeks ago (to see whether it would work for us), and I thought the calm, relaxed atmosphere would be good for both of us. Agility and flyball are great, but they can also be stressful. It would be nice to show up, do whatever Ladybug felt capable of doing, and go home pleased with a good hour’s work.

Our first scentwork class with Ellen was almost a month ago, and wow…Ladybug has come so far since then! At our scentwork workshop, Ladybug was still wearing her “I NEED SPACE” leash scarf, on her canny collar, and very anxious around other dogs. Since that workshop, Ladybug has passed her bronze exam, worked toward her silver, and begun both agility and flyball training. She’s now discarded her cautionary leash scarf, is off lead for some of our walks, and has almostΒ outgrown the need for her canny collar. (I’m keeping her on it for now because it will help her nerves for the silver exam. I’m hoping she will no longer need the canny collar once we advance to the gold class.)

That’s only been in a month. Wow!

For puppy yoga class, we arrived late as I’d underestimated traffic delays. That normally would have made me tense and stressed. Instead, I let Ladybug have a sniff outside before going in. She walked in without any anxiety or fear.

Wow!

We went to the foam padded cushions and chair set up for us, along with a water bowl, snuffle mat, and braided fleece tug. I didn’t realize it until afterward, but I think Ellen had even set out bottles of water for us! (At the time, I thought someone else had left it behind.) Ladybug had a little bark at the other dog, but that was it.

Wow, again!

I was instructed to take out the yoga mat (dog-sized πŸ˜€ ) and begin with clicking and rewarding every time she even looked at the mat. Each time, I’d then throw a treat away from the mat so she had to choose to go back onto the mat. She got this quite quickly and thought it was great. Click and treat just for stepping on a mat? This was the good life!

Next, Ellen had us refine how much of Ladybug was on the mat. First two paws, then three. Pretty soon, Ladybug was going all the way onto the mat and sitting down (her position for “I deserve a treat”). In between sets, I gave Ladybug a little break by dropping a few treats onto the snuffle mat, letting her play with the braided fleece tug, or even letting her have her Very Favorite Stuffy (her reward toy for flyball and agility training).

Here’s the cute/amazing part. In the beginning, Ladybug was so excited about mat work that she said NOPE to her stuffy! She refused to even look at it.

Wow!

I said that a lot about last night. πŸ˜€

Also, which was incredibly cute, at one point she decided I shouldn’t take the mat away (I picked it up while she had a break, so she would learn that staying on the mat meant work time, while going off the mat meant break time). So she reached over to pick up the treats from the snuffle mat, but she kept her back paws on the mat to prevent me from picking it up. When I gently tugged the mat free, she gave me a look as if to say, “Nooooo! This mat means easy treats! I want my snuffle mat treats AND the yoga mat, too!”

We took a little break outside, but she was done with that. In fact, on the way back to the classroom, she pulled on the leash in her excitement to go back to the class.

Wow, wow, wow! She does pull in her excitement to go into the vet’s office, but she generally is more anxious to go outside than inside.

We went back in, and Ellen had us practice lying down on the mat. First just into a down position, and then waiting a bit in the down position before getting her click and treat. I found it a bit difficult while sitting on the chair, but I confused Ladybug when I knelt on the floor instead (as I was at the wrong angle for her to lie on the mat). Next time I may try sitting directly on the floor, as that’s how we do our training at home. It was hard to get the right angle with giving her a treat while leaning over the chair, and she thought I wanted her to sit up.

Then, my teeny bits of carrot ran out. Big lesson from our first yoga class: meat treats are too exciting! I’ll stick to steamed potato and raw carrot next time. πŸ˜€ Once I brought out the tiny bits of beef, she got so excited that she couldn’t focus. She threw herself head-first into my hand in her excitement to eat, and even after a little break she could only focus on TREAT TREAT TREAT!

(She didn’t get any real meat at all when we lived in a vegetarian house, and she wasn’t allowed red meat until very recently. I only give her a tiny bit once in a while as a special treat. So…lesson learned. Don’t bring super-special treats to puppy yoga, as she’s perfectly content to work for low-value treats. Just the training itself is rewarding for her, as she’s calm, relaxed, and focused. She loves the focused attention, distraction-free environment, and almost endless praise. I can’t help it. She’s amazing. πŸ˜› )

Then, for a hilarious finish, she said she was done. How? By licking the yoga mat. I couldn’t stop laughing (and probably rewarding her with the laughter). I was glad Ellen confirmed my feeling Ladybug had had enough. Ladybug got to play for the last few minutes of class. She wouldn’t play with any toys on her own for the scentwork workshop (only interacted with toys if I was holding them), so it was lovely to see her more relaxed and confident.

After the stress of agility this week and sheer terror of flyball last week (despite an amazing agility class last week and flyball practice this week), it was such a refreshing change to go and relax together for an hour. We were quite lucky to have the class at all, as two of the students dropped out at the last minute. That meant only two of us students (class is capped at four dogs, which is amazing), so we got tons of attention and help.

Of course I hope other students join, as Ellen won’t be able to continue long-term with only two dogs. But for our first class, it was wonderful to nearly have a private lesson. I love how thoughtful Ellen is about the little details (like the bottle of water for humans and water bowl for dogs). At one point, Ladybug got excited and accidentally tossed her stuffy too far for her to reach while on the lead. Ellen turned her back toward Ladybug, bent down, picked up the toy, and gently threw the toy back to Ladybug without getting near her or making eye contact. I think Ladybug was relaxed enough that she wouldn’t have felt threatened even if Ellen had faced her to give back the toy, but it was a lovely gesture.

It’s amazing to walk into a first class knowing that your dog will be okay, you’ll be okay, and everyone will create a good environment for your dog. I wish we could go to scentwork classes more frequently as Ladybug loves them so much (watching her do agility is my favorite, but her clear favorite is scentwork–though puppy yoga is now a strong contender for that title), but puppy yoga was great.

It’s so amazing to walk away from a class feeling good about both myself and my dog. I worry endlessly that I’m screwing her up, and last night was a mini-vacation from that worry.

Ladybug came home and slept for two hours, woke up to go outside, and then slept for another ten hours.

What a great start to our weekend.

 

Hooray for flyball!

Those are three words I thought I’d never say!

After a failed attempt to visit another flyball club (traveling 60 miles in 80 degree heat with no air conditioning and a very anxious puppy), I decided to stick with our first good impression rather than continue visiting clubs. One more negative experience could put both of us off completely, and flyball is a chance for Ladybug and me to learn some important lessons.

For me:

  • No one will touch my dog. No one will grab her, shout at her, or hurt her…even if she does not instantly behave according to their unrealistic expectations. (If this ever proves not to be true, she and I will quit flyball immediately.)
  • Other people can help me train her WITHOUT stomping all over both of us to do it.
  • She’s going to be okay. Whether it’s competing or not, or continuing to train or not, or even if it’s just going once a week to help her conquer her fears of other people…it’s going to be a safe space for her. Again, if it ever becomes not safe, we will both leave immediately.

For her:

  • Mummy’s not going anywhere (At least, they’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming. I’d only leave her if I could no longer put a roof over our heads, which is a constant worry…but one I have to have faith will not come true). She can chase a tennis ball, let someone else stand near her, and even talk to a grown man without me disappearing.
  • There ARE good men in the world. Not all men will shout at her, shove her, or hurt her. Not all men will chase her and threaten to kill her. Not all men will hurt me.
  • Mummy’s going to be okay. She’s done such a brilliant job of protecting me for so long (even while deathly ill in the hospital, she protected me from a nurse when she–Ladybug–saw me in tears). I’m honestly touched, as I’ve never had anyone–animal or human–protect me before. No one has ever tried to keep me safe the way she has. When she’s scared for herself, she freezes and trembles. When she’s scared for me, she barks and tries to protect me. I’m going to be okay (at least I hope I will), and I want her to release that burden of protecting me. She’s a baby. She shouldn’t have to worry about keeping me safe.
  • Flyball is fun. Chase a tennis ball. Run. Jump. Get praise and rewards. What could be better?

We had a fabulous practice. For one, the venue was easy to find and well-marked. It’s amazing what a big difference that makes. If I arrive late and stressed at getting lost, or never make it there at all–it hardly makes me happy to practice.

This time, knowing better what to expect, I took Ladybug out for a walk around the perimeter of the field and back. It’s a big one, so the walk took a good ten minutes. She loved sniffing the trees, nibbling grass, and cavorting on her flexi lead.

By the time we returned to the practice area, she and I were both calm and relaxed. When we met the first team member, Ladybug didn’t mind! No barking like last week. At least not at first. πŸ™‚ I hoped to pretend this was just a walk in the park where we happened to meet other people. For the most part, this worked well.

I was shown how to do a very basic introduction to the chute, but this time with it lying flat on the ground. Much easier! It was slightly harder than the straight on and off we’ve practiced at home (as basics for agility), as it meant turning to come off the same side.

When I brought Ladybug out, we got to run in the netting first. Yay! She didn’t even protest this time, like she did last week (she was so worried I’d leave her there). I brought her toy as a reward, but she had zero interest in stuffed toys when a TENNIS BALL was at stake. She didn’t jump out of the netting this time, but she did nearly shove her face through the netting when a ball went through. Completely understandable. πŸ˜€ She did a great job racing after the ball. She brought it most of the way back to me, but not quite as fast. Still, just running around after a ball made her happy and relaxed. No barking, even when a male team member helped us.

Then, we got to work on the flat chute. This was a square wooden box with non-slip covering attached. I lured her onto the box with her two front feet, guided her around my leg until her back feet got onto the box (so all four feet at once), clicked, and lured her off the box with a treat. Eventually, I threw the treat onto the ground to keep her moving forward.

She was BRILLIANT!

And sooooo pleased with herself.

At one point, when I was chatting with the two lovely team members helping us (trying to figure out strategies), she hopped onto the box and gave me a look as if to say, “Where’s my treat? Stop wasting time and get back to work!” She got bouncy and perky, excited and impatient to keep working.

In fact, she had the same sparkle she’s had for agility class.

I’m learning something new!

I did something well!

I’m so proud of myself!

This is what I wanted! I don’t care if it’s something so ridiculously small that any other dog could do it. I wanted her to do something, get it right, and get praised.

She’ll do almost anything for praise, and she’ll jump for joy once she gets it.

We actually had to stop because I got dizzy (turning around and around to guide her on and off the chute), not because she was done. I let her play with her stuffed toy and took her on another walk around the perimeter for a break.

In between all of this, yes she did bark at a few people. But this week, it was more of an excitement bark. Especially at the end when we watched other dogs working (I kept her at the very edge of the field, as I wanted her to learn that the field is a safe place), she was clearly annoyed that all the other dogs got to have fun while she was stuck doing nothing.

She did try her GO AWAY barking a few times, but she got ignored. One guy (the one who tried so hard to win her over last week) firmly told her no. That was it.

It started to sprinkle by the end, and we got a bit wet as we said a hello to Kubo before leaving. Still, she was happy, tired, and thoroughly pleased with herself. Fell asleep almost as soon as we got home and slept through the night.

I’m so pleased we gave flyball another chance.

Oh, and another achievement of last night?

No one made me cry. πŸ™‚

We really are going to get there, Ladybug and I. Whether it’s as flyball champions or happy fumblers who practice box turns for the next three years, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to make friends.

And every day, every practice…every moment will be one more building block toward health.

She’s going to be a healthy dog someday.

I just know it.

All of these lessons, classes, practices…that’s what it’s about. Focusing on becoming healthier and stronger, not on her illness and weakness.

She’s going to be a strong, healthy, and happy dog.

Or I’ll die trying. πŸ˜€

 

Our first playdate! (Ladybug gets muddy!)

For a pup who comes from working farm dog stock, Ladybug is amazingly clean. She’s gotten about four baths in her life (except at the hospital, where she was so sick and stressed that toileting accidents meant almost daily baths). The good thing about spending most of her life on lead (poor baby!) is that she hasn’t learned to roll in the mud (yet!). I’m also terrified of Alabama rot, so these days we give mud a wide berth.

Then we went on a play date. πŸ˜€

We went on a play date with another collie.

The two are now partners in crime for life.

Kubo and Ladybug pleased with their muddy state. Ladybug had NEVER been that dirty before!

Kubo taught Ladybug the joy of carrying gigantic sticks. Photo credit: Kubo’s mum

The two met each other, and Kubo went down into an instant submissive belly-up pose. Ladybug was rather perplexed why he wouldn’t immediately run with her. They negotiated their differences, though, and had a grand afternoon running around. At one point, I had to hold Ladybug in my lap to make her rest. She was panting so hard her entire body shook, and she seemed to have trouble catching her breath. She was not pleased with me, but after a rest she got to run around again.

She also got her first taste of what the Brits call a “push up,” which is a popsicle in a paper cone. She waited patiently while we had a snack, and I bit off a tiny piece for her. Bliss!

It was fabulous to see Ladybug running around with a friend. She doesn’t get much running time these days, as I’m still learning her physical limits. I’ve been focusing more on distance walking, as that is much easier to pace.

Just so pleased to see every daily victory. Look at how far she’s come in a few short months! When I brought her home from the hospital at the end of January, we couldn’t walk five minutes without needing a rest. (Both of us!) She wouldn’t eat more than a bite or two at a time, and only out of my hand. Neither of us got more than about an hour of sleep at a time.

And now…just like a healthy, ordinary dog (okay, with less stamina and more fearfulness), she had a play date with another dog.

So proud of her.

And glad we’ve made a new friend.