Thursday, June 21, 2012

Conformation Class with Pepper

Min-E-Me wins Reserve Winner's Bitch,
6-9 month puppy class,
on June 16, 2012
Tuesday night I took Pepper to his, and my, first conformation class ever, encouraged by cousin Lois who just showed Pepper's half sister, Min-E-Me, and won "Reserve Winner's Bitch" in the 6-9 month puppy class.  The show was in Florida, June 16, the puppy is 7 months old.

We were the only team that showed up for Netta's class so we got a private lesson.  There's more to this conformation stuff than meets the eye. 
  • Walking a puppy on leash with their head held high and a few feet out from the handler, not sniffing the ground, wabbling too and fro, or looking all around,
  • keeping a steady trot that shows off the dog's structure, in a circle and also in a straight line,
  • dog standing frontways to the judge,
  • having an "interesting expression on command",
  • stacking on the table,
  • standing for exam,
  • not minding having their teeth and body examined by a total stranger,
  • having the dog interested in the bait, but not lunging for it.
That's a lot to train for.  So our first lesson I pretty much got exposed to the lay of the land, but no information on how to train these skills.  My homework is to work on a good stack, which is "front feet near the edge of the table, shoulders straight, and back feet placed so the rear pasterns are perpendicular to the table, pretty much as in the photo above.

I also got a few important pointers on how to behave at a show:
  • Get to the ring early and watch how the previous dogs are asked to move around the ring by your judge.  Then when it's your turn you can concentrate more on your dog than ciphering the judge's instructions.
  • Make sure the dog is freshly washed and well groomed.
  • Handlers are often seen holding the dog's tail in the UP position BECAUSE even breeds who usually carry their tails UP will tend to drop their tails when approached by a stranger or even just ill at ease at a show.
  • Get the recommended thinnest possible white show leash for Pepper, so it won't show up in his white neck hair.
There are tricks to every trade!   

Pepper was feisty, as usual, concerned almost entirely with smelling, exploring the parking lot, and getting his chicken gizzard treats.  In other words -- all over the place and pulling hard on his leash.  Netta remarked she wished she had a video camera to film her pupils so we could see our gait, I whipped my brand new 4GS iPhone out from my pocket, and she took my first video on that phone.  Learning to point and shoot with an iPhone takes some getting used to, and all but one position requires rotating in Windows Live Movie Maker, but here's the little snippet she got.

Being as Pepper is trained to sit when I quit walking, I was pleased how quickly he caught on to remain standing, though I couldn't get him to face the judge rather than me.

When I got home, all the dogs were psyched.  They don't like being left behind while I take Pepper places.  Pepper and Lucky began a friendly tug of war, with Maxie watching on.  This went on about 5 minutes before I decided to video that, too.  John held the camera.  We are always amazed at the way Lucky regulates her tugging to suit her playmate (she's very strong and can tug your arm off, shake you up and drag you across the room), and the way she handed the toy off to Pepper time after time.  It was in a darkened living room, so we got to test the flash feature on the new iPhone.  It lit the room moderately well but made the dogs' eyes look like Tasmanian Devils.  Even so, the video is an interesting study of cooperative dog behavior (sharing a toy), and self-regulating behavior, so I'm sharing it below.

Upwards and onward,

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cushings Disease and Fooh Fooh

FoohFooh and Maxie
Yesterday, after he bit my foot, John and I took our 12 year old American Dingo (Carolina Dog), FoohFooh (for whom this blog is partly named), to the vet to see if we could find out what's wrong with him.  He's been acting weird, and we fear he is becoming a danger to ourselves and especially to house guests.  Three weeks ago he lunged at my mother's arm and broke skin, trying to get at a piece of toast she was carrying around.

His presenting symptoms have been excessive water consumption, excessive urination (including indoors), excessive begging, ravanous appetite, weight loss, dull hair, lethargy, loss of muscle tone, irritability, food guarding, eating whole toilet paper rolls, plastic bags, paper towels, mail, raiding trash cans, and growling if you try to take them away, lying in the doorways and halls then snapping at us if we try to step over or move him (why he bit me), not coming when called, reluctance to go outside.

As soon as I told the vet, she said it was almost certainly Cushings Disease, a brain tumor on the pituitary gland that causes symptoms easily confused with "old age", but treatable, and a relief to know it is not painful to the dog. 

She spent a lot of time listening to his heart.  Feces and blood work came back "normal", no diabetes, but there was blood in the urine-- a unirary tract infection.  She put him on Keflex for 2 weeks.  After that he goes back for a second evaluation and to establish a course of treatment for Cushings.

The vet said "Look Cushings up on the internet.  There is a lot to learn."  That was a first -- a medical professional advising me to research a condition myself!  So this morning I Googled "Cushings Disease Dogs" and found that it is a disease of the endocrine system (see diagram).  Here are the most suscinct summaries I pieced together from here and there.

Symptoms: Symptoms of Cushing's disease can be vague and varied and tend to appear gradually and progressively. It is thus easy to mistake Cushing's disease for normal aging. Additionally, many of the clinical symptoms are not unique to Cushing's and could reflect a number of other health concerns.

The most common symptoms include:
• increased/excessive water consumption (polydipsia)
• increased/excessive urination (polyuria)
• urinary accidents in previously housetrained dogs
• increased/excessive appetite (polyphagia)
• appearance of food stealing/guarding, begging, trash dumping, etc.
• sagging, bloated, pot-bellied appearance
• weight gain or its appearance, due to fat redistribution
• loss of muscle mass, giving the appearance of weight loss
• bony, skull-like appearance of head
• exercise intolerance, lethargy, general or hind-leg weakness
• new reluctance to jump on furniture or people
• excess panting, seeking cool surfaces to rest on
• symmetrically thinning hair or baldness (alopecia) on torso
• other coat changes like dullness, dryness
• slow regrowth of hair after clipping
• thin, wrinkled, fragile, and/or darkly pigmented skin
• easily damaged/bruised skin that heals slowly
• hard, calcified lumps in the skin (calcinosis cutis)
• susceptibility to infections (especially skin and urinary)
• diabetes, pancreatitis, seizures

There are several types of Cushings, and different treatment for each one, but they all affect the pituitary and adrenal glands.  Here's a summary of that:

In health: In order to understand Cushing's disease, one needs to understand the basics of the negative feedback loop that operates in a normal, healthy dog. The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, produces ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone), as directed by the hypothalamus (another part of the brain). This hormone is released into the bloodstream and stimulates the body's two adrenal glands, located near the kidneys, to secrete glucocorticoid (cortisone-like or cortisol) hormones into the bloodstream. Cortisol helps the body respond to stress. It is necessary for life and impacts a wide variety of bodily functions including blood sugar levels, fat metabolism, skeletal muscles, kidney function, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune response. ACTH/cortisol secretion is increased due to stress, including infection, pain, surgery, trauma, cold temperatures. When the blood cortisol levels are high enough, the pituitary stops secreting ACTH. When the blood cortisol levels dip low enough, the pituitary secretes more ACTH. The adrenals respond by secreting glucocorticoid hormones in response to the pituitary, just as the pituitary responds by secreting ACTH in response to the adrenals. The net effect is that a mildly fluctuating balance is achieved. This is an oversimplified picture of cortisol homeostasis in the healthy dog.

In Cushing's Disease: The feedback loop has gone awry for one of three reasons: a pituitary tumor, an adrenal tumor, or veterinary interference. The result is a chronic excess of blood cortisol. In effect, the dog is being poisoned with too much cortisol and cannot rely on its own feedback mechanism to regulate the blood cortisol level.
Cortisol increases appetite and thirst, so owners may notice that they are filling their dog’s food and water bowls much more often than usual, and in fact may report that their pet’s appetite is ravenous. Likewise, they often report abnormal hair loss that is symmetrical on both sides of their dog’s body, along with loss of muscle mass especially in the legs. Muscle atrophy and corresponding redistribution of weight often give dogs with this disease a “pot-bellied” look. They also commonly have poor wound healing. Dogs with hyperadrenocorticism are predisposed to developing other problems, including heart failure, diabetes mellitus, infections and high blood pressure. Typically, several of these signs appear at or around the same time. As the disease progresses, affected dogs’ signs typically worsen and increase in number. However, because Cushing’s is largely treatable, possibly curable and usually manageable, it is important for dog owners to become familiar with the signs of this disease.

Prevention:   Unfortunately, other than managing the medical use of corticosteroids, there is no way to prevent hyperadrenocorticism in dogs. Functional tumors of the pituitary and/or adrenal glands occur for unknown reasons, and until the cause of those tumors is discovered, prevention of Cushing’s disease is not realistic.

Bottom line: Cushing's disease is a common condition in older dogs and is often mistaken for signs of normal aging. Although most dogs with Cushing's disease cannot be cured, their quality of life (as well as the owner's quality of life) can be improved, and their lives may be extended with early intervention. It is often possible to successfully manage this disease for years. It thus behooves the pet owner to become familiar with the typical signs of Cushing's and the treatments available.

Fooh Fooh blocks the gate and won't move.
So, it looks like I'm on another voyage of discovery.  SIGH!  I always question the concept that there is no cure for things, and will commence exploring whether there are homeopathic remedies. There are so many other things I'd prefer to be doing but it's hard to ignore a 40 lb. dog that growls and snaps and limits my freedom of movement in my own home.  And I love my FoohFooh, though I must admit, my fond feelings for him diminish in proportion to his increased and unpredictable aggressiveness, as well as ruined carpets.  If anyone out there has experience with this disease, or with these feelings, please offer me your advice.

Upwards and onward, I guess . . . . .

Friday, June 8, 2012

Blog Action Day Takeaways - "Attitude"

Having read all 54 posts sent in by agility bloggers on June 6th on the subject of "Attitude", the main point made seems to be that everyone struggles with developing and maintaining a good attitude, most people have had experiences with rude competitors at trials, and most people approach agility as "fun".  Here are my favorite takeaways and links to some full articles.  A list of all the articles can be found here.

“Attitude controls Altitude.” ~unknown

"If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it”. ~Mary Engelbreit

"Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right." ~Henry Ford

"There are exactly as many special occasions in life as we choose to celebrate." ~Robert Brault

"Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment." ~Oprah Winfrey
I don’t think a one-size-fits-all approach to dog training works. Dogs, like people, bring different personalities to training. One dog can be resilient, another slower to bounce back.
I have been taking a Control Unleashed course from Greta Kaplan, with Dancer. It has taught me a lot about reading the very subtle signals. . . . .
There are plenty of attitudes in agility; some good – some not so much. For some reason, there are people in this sport who . . . . . think that being able to get a dog around an agility course successfully, gives them permission to treat those they perceive as less worthy, poorly.

I love it when something goes wrong in a run, but the handler smiles and never blames their dog. When the run ends, they smile at their dog and their dog smiles back, never knowing anything went wrong. Now THAT is a great attitude!
Your ability to be persuaded to change your attitude is directly linked to your intelligence - low intelligence and high intelligence are struggle to change; whereas, average intelligence are more able to be persuaded one way or the other. Same goes for self-esteem. Those with super high self esteem or low self esteem find it more difficult to move the needle on their attitude; whereas, those with average self-esteem are more open.
Life is too short to be an asshole or to let one under your skin.
While we put a lot of emphasis on how dogs read our motion cues (forward, deceleration, lateral, etc), something I believe comes in a very close second is our body cues and specifically, emotion cues.
For me the most important aspect of handling, next to using Proactive Handling, is bringing an intensity to my execution.

When it is time to run the course I try to push everything else out of mind and have a narrow focus on executing, closely watching/cuing my dog and really driving myself to those points where I need to be. Handling still must balance where you need to be with providing the cues your dog needs when they need them. But as soon as my dog knows what is needed; I try to be unrelentingly driving forward to my next spot.
A positive attitude isn’t something that comes naturally to all of us.
But I have practiced the journey to that happy place often enough that I can easily find my way. I just have to want to make it so, and I do.
It’s hard to make a case for being passionate about not giving a damn (it’s only a game) without it sounding slightly discordant. That being said, I’m a student of the game, and a coach in the game. But on a very personal level, it’s just a game I play with my dogs.
Lots of poetic affirmations on this post, such as:
When I’m 74 years old, I will wake up each morning with an attitude that says, “more please”. I will lift my body from the sheets, display a few downward facing dog yoga poses to alert my joints and muscles that the day has begun and shake my body with a vigor that leaves my checks nicely smoothed out from the creases left by pillow. I will venture forward to void yesterday and make room for today’s surprises.
As Samurai took a U-turn to check out the trash . . . . . Daisy Peel (my trainer) calmly said,"No, just wait for him. Sometimes when I do this, I just pull a chair to the middle of the ring."  And as she said it, she pulled two chairs into the ring. And sat.  After awhile, Samurai, apparently bored of his explorations, came flying back, taking a jump for kicks. . . . Daisy clicked it. His curiosity piqued. He circled and ran toward us. Clicked again.  Sam sensed it and began to offer more behaviors. Soon he was acting as if he must surely be the smartest and most charming Papillon in the world.

We must honor, respect and find joy in a dog's endless ability to be uniquely and utterly itself . . . . . To realize, allow and accept this fact in total is to open a font of positive energy that can be channeled to many things. It surpasses control because it is a response that is freely given and grown in an attitude of openness.


Plenty more worth reading and remembering, but these are the ones that struck me the most.

Upwards and onward,

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blog Action Day - "Attitude"

This post is part of a quarterly Blog Action Day initiative started by Steve Schwarz.  You can read other agility bloggers' posts on "Attitude" here.

A large majority of agility enthusiasts express the same positive attitude that "as long as you are having fun, you're doing good."  It's so obvious, they never question it.  And I totally agree -- NOW.  But it hasn't always been so.  So I thought I'd share the bad attitude I had to overcome to get to the "fun" part.

Long before I could begin to grapple with a good attitude towards agility training, I had to overcome my father's strong opinion that pleasurable pursuits are frivolous.  A product of the Great Depression and WWII, he was so afraid his children might starve, I suppose, that all he approved of was educational excellence and good jobs.  Our focus must first be on self-sufficiency, and then on improving society.  Perhaps without quite meaning to, he convinced his children that hobbies are superfluous.  Even though he played golf avidly, he always told us it was "strictly for business".

He thought that doing things for "personal relevance" is pure self indulgence (biblically, a waste of one's talents), and the fastest road to hell. He was not an appreciater of art or literature, either, unless it was the classics. I can still hear him say, "if you can't paint like Michaelangelo, don't waste the canvas. If you can't write like Shakespeare, don't clutter the world with your drivel. If you're not prima ballerina material, I won't throw away money on ballet lessons." Extrapolating from that, he might say "If you can't be Susan Garrett, don't train dogs". Of agility, he once asked "are you making money at it yet". That was his criteria. Never, ever, "are you having fun".

I bet most of the rest of you didn't have this impediment to overcome!

I've had to learn to pursue my hobbies guilt free.  Getting rid of his parental influence in this area has been a life's work, and from my success at it, I can attest that:
  1. If you let other people's opinions shape you, you can not live your own life.
  2. If you dwell in the past, you're future becomes so weighted down with old issues it can't take flight.
  3. If you set your sights too high, you may never start your journey.
  4. If you don't cultivate gratitude for the many good things around you, the negatives can swamp you.
I was well into adulthood, almost 40 in fact, before realizing that Dad's opinions weren't binding on me, that hobbies are healthy, that progressive learning is unavoidable, that skill-building takes time, that there is plenty of room for people in the middle.  We can't all be super-stars.  I learned to take responsibility for my own personal happiness, to value myself as worthy of such happiness, and to reach for and be content with "my own personal best".  Not to compare myself to the brightest stars in the sky, but just shine as brightly as I can.  To take pride in my progress. But it took me many years to quit carrying around that big bag of guilt for doing things I naturally love to do, even if they don't make money or win me high recognition.  I've had to learn to take care of my own inner child, to be my own parent, to praise and encourage myself the way I see other parents praising their kids (and dogs) for every little thing they do.  My blog helps me do that. Every now and then I notice another "guilt" boulder I'm carrying around, and heave it. Yeah!

I expressed my hard won mindset in a poem to my son in 1990, as I struggled to learn to live a joyful life, free from unnecessary struggles and needless grief!  It's called "Mamma's Last Request", and imagines the final piece of advice I would give to anyone about "attitude".

With that mountain mostly climbed, it frees me to work towards a winning attitude in agility.  Of course, more mountains to overcome there.  I'm absolutely no athelete.  I've had to learn and relearn to get up early (I'm a total night person).  I've had to spend money on coaching, developing a precompetition routine, a thicker skin, and get comfortable with the fact that I'll never be a Susan Garrett.  Setting realistic personal goals, not comparing myself to others, are all important tools in my "agility attitude" tool kit.

Counting my blessings is another big tool.  It's the tool kit itself.  This often takes the form of putting positive spin on what seems like a constant stream of negatives.  Here's a poster I used to keep on my wall which, to me, exemplifies the "spin" trick.
     The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.
     While to others I may seem more confused than ever,
     and to myself as well,
     I believe I am confused on a higher level
     and about more important things.

Perhaps I'm not over the guilt yet because I'm still motivated to justify my hobbies.  But here's my spin on having 5 dogs and spending so much time and money on training them.  First and foremost, my dogs are heap good therapy. They pay their way 100 times over. They add structure to my retirement.  I wake up every morning full of motivation (a priceless treasure), and agility is simultaneously my social life, my physical therapy and my antecdote to alzheimers! No telling how much money I save not needing a psychotherapist or anti-depressants to get through life's confusing, sometimes discouraging, jungle. Far from being "superfluous" or even "optional", I consider my dogs and their training essential to me living "the good life".

Pepper guarding his rock, age 7 months.
My dogs, unlike any humans I know, inspire me to stretch beyond my current abilities, then pay me back immediately with acceptance, affection and devotion. They exude confidence in themselves and in me, thus are ideal companions!  They keep me laughing -- heap good medicine!  It's exhilerating to love and be loved so intensely. Maxie, Willow and Lucky Lucy are my therapy, and now Pepper, so full of cocky Papillon attitude and enthusiasm, with his future all ahead of him and totally trusting that I keep him safe and teach him all I can, is another motivator.

Expressions of gratitude for all my blessings, effusively and frequently offered throughout my blog and elsewhere, keeps me rich and mostly upbeat, too!  Money can't buy that.  My cup overfloweth, and I know it.  Hopefully I carry that into the arena.

My dogs are what is motivating me now to heal my aching hip, fix my cataract surgery gone wrong, both of which have about stopped me in my agility tracks, so I can get back to training and trialing with them -- perfecting those well-timed front crosses, serpentines, running contacts, and reliable start-line stays, and giving everything all the intensity I've got.

Thanks for letting me share,