We’ve Come a Long Way

Anytime she can play in the water is a good time for Risa.

Anytime she can play in the water is a good time for Risa.

It’s been a while since I last sat down to write anything here and a lot has happened. My Windsprite puppy, Kyu, turned a year old in June. His Birthday gift was a road trip for freestyle private lessons (Risa came too). In July, Risa and I celebrated 11 years together. She got McDonalds fries (naturally) and we took a trip to her favorite river. While there, we met up with friends for a walk and ended our fun with dog time! All the dogs got to run free and investigate and do dog things off leash. Risa refused to act her age and, despite having been on a long walk beforehand, raced around with everyone like she wasn’t old OR broken.

In July, I took Kyu to his breed specialty where he surprised the heck out of me by taking Winners Dog AND Best of Winners in the conformation ring. This was only my third time showing in conformation and, in all honesty, I didn’t expect him to do well. I knew he wasn’t quite built to standard and I didn’t get him as a conformation dog. I was very happy to see him doing so well, though. Maybe we’ll do more conformation in the future. 🙂

In August, I held my second ever freestyle event. It was a labor of love and a lot of work. It was hard to take the time to get everything ready for the competition AND prepare my dogs for their performances. (Needless to say, housework was definitely on the back burner during this time.)

On top of that, I had made the decision to retire Risa from competition. It was not a decision I made lightly. I had always said I would let her tell me when she was done but I decided that I’d rather she stop while she’s still enjoying it instead. Besides, I could already tell that certain aspects of competing were no longer fun for her. She started becoming reluctant to go back in her crate. After long days at a trial, she was really tired and would get crabby with Kyu (which he doesn’t deserve). As much as she still was enjoying going into the ring and playing with me, the other parts of trialing were starting to become too much.

Still has game at 13.5!

Still has game at 13.5!

I’d also started to notice some frustration from her in training sessions. Sometimes things seemed less clear to her (possibly due to hearing loss?). She was more willing to disengage which has always been an issue anyway. There were also times I saw some physical issues that made me think it was time. Some minor stumbling in her rear or hind end weakness. And her ability to work for long periods was definitely waning.

I knew her remaining time in competition was short. To be honest, we were on bonus time as it was since I wasn’t even sure she’d return to the ring after her back injury. After earning her Veteran Championship, I toyed with the idea of going for the Veteran Grand Championship. Her scores had been high enough at the Championship level; all I had to do was add a bit more time to the routine. I decided to give it a shot. She earned her first leg towards the title via video competition with me not even preparing for the additional time added. I had hoped she could earn those final two legs at our home competition. Since long days in a crate were tough on her, I decided to run her home at lunch so she could have time to nap without distraction.

I didn’t feel like I’d adequately prepared her for the event. I wasn’t sure she could pull it off. But this was going to be her last live competition regardless. It’s simply become too much to ask of her at her age. If we couldn’t finish the title, we’d try in video. But I really wanted to do it live.

Her performance Saturday was great. The changes I’d made in the routine to clarify what she needed to do helped immensely. The addition to the routine at the suggestion of friends at our private lesson with Diane Balkavich was also a win. Taking her home at lunch proved to be a very wise move as she was well-rested for the competition on Sunday.

RFE Musical Freestyle Veteran Grand Champion Risa with her awesome huge rosette.

RFE Musical Freestyle Veteran Grand Champion Risa with her awesome huge rosette.

As I stepped into the ring with her for the last time, I started to let my emotions take hold. I managed to force them back, however. Risa didn’t need that extra pressure. She didn’t know it was the end. And I wanted it to be about us. Together. Everything we’ve been. I didn’t want to focus on it ending but celebrate that it happened. As we danced, the crowd applauded and Risa’s spirits lifted. She’s always done better with applause and she absolutely rocked it. It wasn’t a perfect performance but her heart was in it. What a great way to end a spectacular career. She earned her Veteran Grand Championship. Even if she hadn’t, I couldn’t have asked for a much better last competition with my girl.

I still managed to hold it together through the rest of the event (probably because I was in charge of it and had so much on my mind). I finally broke down a bit when my friends handed me a retirement gift for Risa during lunch. What a touching gesture and one I won’t soon forget. It was worse once I got home and read the enclosed cards. I was a sobbing mess.

It’s hard to end this chapter in Risa’s life. Training and trialing has been so much of our past 7 years together. It’s been a challenging and exciting ride. I never wanted it to end. She’s been such a spectacular partner. I certainly won’t stop training her; she enjoys it way too much to take it away completely. I’m also hoping to complete the AKC Tricks titles with her but those are low-pressure and don’t require long stays in a crate. The pressure is off now. She can take it easy. If she’s still around for our freestyle competition next year, I’ll put her in the non-titling class if she’s still in the mood to dance. She’s welcome to do it if she still wants to but I’m not going to force her into it.

We’ve had a hell of a ride together. Thank you for everything, Risa. I couldn’t have asked for a better dance partner.

Veteran MF-GrCH Dancing Cavy’s Pain in the Butte W-FDM/MF MF-M Vet InS/E R-FE/N PCD BN RAE RL1 (AoE) RNX CA CGC WCX3

Saturday’s Dance:

Sunday’s Dance:

Posted in Back Problems, Canine Freestyle, Conformation, Diane Balkavich, Dog Sports, Dog Training Seminars, IVDD, RFE, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment


My champion freestyle partner.

My champion freestyle partner.

I wasn’t sure it was even possible. . .but I figured we might as well give it a try. I’d always wanted Risa to earn her championship in freestyle. We were two legs shy of it in WCFO freestyle before I parted ways with the organization. We were close in RFE and then Risa’s back went out and I wasn’t sure she’d even dance again. Once I knew she still could, I wasn’t sure she could still compete at such a high level so I tried Veteran In-Sync Entry level instead. After a decent performance in In-Sync, I decided we’d be better off back where she excels: musical freestyle. I debated whether to start her over at the Veteran level or try for her Veteran Championship. Go big or go home; I decided it was worth a shot. I entered her in Veteran Champion Musical Freestyle.

It was our first time competing at the venue so I knew she’d be more stressed than usual. I hadn’t accounted for a rough time at the hotel (for me though we all know the dogs fed off my anxiety and stress) or Kyu stressing out on the long car ride. While Risa was not overly stressed at the new location, it was still very hard for her. She performed well in the ring on Saturday and earned her first leg despite several missed cues. Saturday afternoon, she started having really bad diarrhea. This continued into Sunday. She woke me up at midnight to go out and we barely made it off the walkway. 🙁 This continued all day with her having urgent, runny poo every single time I took her outside. I felt awful. Not only did she have a really upset tummy but she didn’t want to go back into the building. Usually she is not so stressed she is unwilling to go back in (though she is always happy to leave no matter how comfortable she is somewhere). Unfortunately, I didn’t have many options aside from taking her back in.

I almost pulled her from competition Sunday but she seemed willing enough that I thought we’d give it a shot. She performed better on Sunday except for a new, unexpected problem. She started balking on her cued “through” behaviors. I knew I was wearing a robe which presented a very different picture to her and I had a feeling it was a vision issue. She’s not a young dog anymore so it wasn’t surprising. Just something I hadn’t come across with her before. She’d even missed the entrance to the ring twice while we were getting ready to perform. Despite those bobbles, she managed to qualify and took home her Veteran Championship.

I should have been elated but I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. I felt badly she was unhappy at the venue (even though freestyle events are incredibly low-key). I felt awful her gut was so upset (later found out it was the Prilosec I had given her to protect her gut from the NSAIDs she is on). And I was sad because I can finally see the end of her competitive career is fast approaching. I cried into her neck several times. . .and sniffled with my fellow competitors. Apparently, some of them had been teary already after watching us together. I think that’s the first time we’ve moved an audience like that.

Happy little Yu Yu had a blast and shows great promise!

Happy little Yu Yu had a blast and shows great promise!

We came home with lots of loot, rosettes, ribbons, and memories. I couldn’t be happier with either of my dogs (Kyu was a superstar all weekend). I’m not ready to have my competitive journey with Risa end. . .but the end is near.

I’ve had to make some decisions in regards to her competitive future. Firstly, I decided I’m not taking her anywhere new for competitions anymore. I’ve also pretty much decided she’s done with anything that isn’t freestyle. She’s welcome to dance until she dies (even if not competitively). Jury’s still out on how much longer she’s going to be willing to do anything competitive. I can already see she is less than thrilled to spend long days in her crate at the show. Even when she’s able to sleep comfortably in her crate, it takes a lot out of her. She’s exhausted.

I know she’s an old dog now. It’s not like last year where it felt more like she was broken due to her back injury but still mentally young. She’s really aged over the last year. That’s not to say she isn’t still vibrant, playful, and active. She lights up when we train and she still loves to go in the ring and perform. It just takes a lot out of her. Even walks are starting to get shorter and she comes home to nap immediately afterward.

I won’t push her. When she says she’s had enough, it’s okay. I’m thankful we got to play at all and for as long as we have. She started her performance career late (she was 6) and she’s had a great run. So many letters. So many spectacular memories. I have loved having her as my partner in canine sports. She has always been a pleasure to work with (even if it has been frustrating and challenging along the way). I will miss stepping between the gates and looking down on her smiling face looking up at me. I will miss it. . .but I’m so thankful for all the memories.

Veteran MF-CH Dancing Cavy’s Pain in the Butte W-FDM/MF MF-M Veteran InS/E R-FE/N PCD BN RAE RL1 (AoE) RNX CA CGC WCX3

Posted in Back Problems, Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, Fear, GI Issues, IVDD, Reactivity, RFE, Training, WCFO | Leave a comment

Frustration in Training

Old lady or not, she still wants to do things.

Old lady or not, she still wants to do things.

Despite her age, I’m still actively training Risa. I had some goals for her this year but, as time goes on, I am seriously rethinking them. We are certainly struggling with her abilities; there are some things she simply cannot do anymore. The biggest problem now, however, is age-related. Unlike last year, when I thought of her as “broken” rather than old, she is finally an old dog.

I’m thrilled it’s taken so long but saddened at the prospects for her future in competition (and otherwise). I am ready to let her retire when she tells me she is done. Or sooner if she’s incapable of making that decision (much like she is incapable of deciding that lure coursing is a bad idea with her back).

I recently listened to an outstanding podcast by Hannah Branigan regarding frustration in dog training. As she states, frustration is the first step towards extinction of behavior. When training behaviors, this is typically the last thing we want. I’ve noticed, however, that Risa is often frustrated during training sessions. In most cases, it’s not due to unintentional lack of clarity from me or that she doesn’t know the behavior. (Though there is fair argument for my training stupidity in her backups which has definitely created frustration for both parties. Wish I’d recognized this sooner!) I believe she’s losing her hearing which is causing her lack of understanding and frustration. She’s been so good at verbal cues without supportive hand or body movements but, as her hearing fails her, she is uncertain what I want her to do. This leads to frustration on her part. She tries her hardest but I’ve noticed more barking and leaving the session lately. Ris is not much of a barker though leaving to do her own thing has always been an issue (for various reasons). I recognize her quitting now is usually from frustration. It’s getting harder for me to indicate to her what I want her to perform.

For that reason alone, I know the end of her competitive career is drawing near. She’s also starting to act like an old lady and simply tell me “I’m going to do what I want.” As long as it’s safe, I’ve been letting her. Kyu still has to wait at the back door to be cued to exit to the yard. Risa just goes outside whenever the door is opened. I really don’t care.

As per usual, Risa challenges me in new ways. Forces me to think outside the box and become a better trainer. If we still want to play these games together, I need to think of ways to make my requests clearer. She still continues to teach.

Even when she retires, I’ll still continue to train with her. She enjoys it far too much to quit entirely. 🙂

Posted in Canine Freestyle, Dog Sports, Obedience, Rally, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

Mystery Solved

The mystery behind the mix has been revealed.

The mystery behind the mix has been revealed.

Everyone has always wondered what kind of mix Risa is. Myself included. Knowing or not knowing would never change my opinion of her, naturally. But part of me always wanted to know what she was. She doesn’t LOOK like any particular breed or mix so I always assumed she was a combination of quite a few breeds. Sort of what dogs would look like if they were allowed to breed indiscriminately without human intervention.

I know when the DNA tests first came out, they were pretty hit-or-miss. I also know that, even with known mixes, the pups can look absolutely nothing like their parents. Several of my friends had run the newer DNA tests on their dogs and the results seemed feasible. My curiosity eventually won out over my skepticism and I bought one of the tests. Waiting 3 weeks for the results to come in was agonizing which was silly since I’d already been waiting 10.5 years to know. 🙂

For all the unknowns, I knew she was a herding mix of some sort. Her behaviors have always indicated that (even if she doesn’t actually herd). Which ones, however, was the mystery. I’d always suspected border collie and guessed that Australian cattle dog would be likely too considering how commonplace they are in Montana (where I adopted Risa). While she is built very much like a sighthound, I truly would have been surprised to find any in there. My guess was border collie/German shorthaired pointer/Boxer, Australian cattle dog. I wasn’t even close. 🙂

Risa's pedigree!

Risa’s pedigree!

As I suspected, she’s pretty mixed up. I was surprised to see German shepherd in there especially at such a high percentage! Twenty-five percent GSD! That certainly explains a lot (her GI problems, bad back, temperament issues). I would never have guessed Rottweiler or husky. Collie actually didn’t throw me, though, as she was listed as a collie mix at the shelter. I had just always assumed border collie versus rough collie. Makes me think that her mother was probably a collie cross (since that’s probably the “known part” from her original family when she was purchased in a Walmart parking lot). Husky, while unexpected, would certainly explain some of her aloofness and her joy of running for the sake of running. Both the German shepherd and husky could account for the copious amounts of hair she sheds!! 🙂 Some of the other breeds mixed in there are apparently cocker spaniel, poodle, golden retriever, Weimaraner, Chihuahua, soft-coated wheaten terrier, standard schnauzer, Russell terrier, and miniature pinscher.

Yup. Pretty mixed up Muttski. But it’s sort of cool to “know.”

Posted in Thoughts | Leave a comment


The newest addition to my crazy life.

The newest addition to my crazy life.

As I mentioned previously, I brought home a puppy late last summer. He’s a Windsprite, a small coated sighthound formerly known as a Longhaired whippet. The name is a bit of a misnomer (which is why it underwent a change this past year) as they are not a recessive coated whippet but a unique breed created from crossing a sheltie and a whippet about 70 years ago.

I never thought getting a puppy was a good idea. I knew they took a lot of work and I’d lamented having certain young, vibrant foster dogs who required more time than I could give. Given Risa’s injury, however, I couldn’t take a chance on a rambunctious adolescent dog who could accidentally injure her. Against my better judgement, I decided a puppy was my best bet. Risa has also always loved puppies.

When I made the decision, it wasn’t the best time to decide to bring in a puppy. The cost of Risa’s care was more than I could afford. But I had no idea if she’d ever compete again and, like it or not, I had to come to grips with the reality that she will not live forever. With her being such an integral part of my life, I couldn’t imagine myself being able to function without her. Without a reason to still train dogs, take walks, leave the house, and generally give a shit about anything. I knew I needed someone to help me get through that loss when it comes. And I needed to get him into things while she was still around so that I didn’t feel I couldn’t do some of these activities again because they were “Risa’s.” I got him for me. . .but I knew he’d be good for her too.

Kyu is similar to Risa but different in his own right. He’s confident and bold. Incredibly intelligent and receptive. He’s easy to engage and not super sensitive. He is in love with dogs and people. He’s really everything I wanted. I’m so glad I went to such a great breeder (and friend!) who picked out the perfect puppy for me. He even does a couple behaviors that Risa does which is incredibly sweet and awesome now and someday will cause me to break down and bawl uncontrollably.

He is not perfect, though. 🙂 He is much barkier than I like (I blame the sheltie). When I first brought him home, he used to cry and scream when he was left alone. He’d work himself up into a panic. I couldn’t shower, feed Risa, do Risa’s PT, or even leave the room without him having a meltdown. I finally had a meltdown of my own after about a week. I debated giving up and sending him back; clearly I was not cut out for this puppy. His breeder talked me off the ledge and I stuck it out. I’m so glad I did. Funny how I never once considered sending Risa back yet her issues were far more severe. Granted, she would have gone back to an uncertain future. Not so with Kyu.

He's been with me for 6 months now and I can't wait to see how far he can go!

He’s been with me for 6 months now and I can’t wait to see how far he can go!

He also eats Risa’s poop if I don’t pick it up right away (gross). He jumps up and pokes me in the face with his nose. He’s bent my glasses and left a scratch on them a couple times. I also think he’d truly like to crawl into my skin; he likes to be THAT close. 🙂 None of us is perfect but, really, I hit the jackpot with this dog too.

I see so much potential in this dog. Much like I saw in Risa but the road to channel his abilities should be far easier than the one I traveled with Risa. Still, his journey is a continuation of hers. Everything she taught me I will share with him. He will reap the rewards of my struggles and victories with Risa. And he will teach me more and test me in his own way. I have high hopes for him but I also respect who he is and look forward to where he will take me. I never expected I’d ever get a sighthound. They’re not known for being performance dogs or very handler-focused. But Kyu seems to be pretty much the total package I wanted. I’d waited years for a second dog. . .and he was worth it.

Posted in Back Problems, IVDD, Puppy, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment