The Little Dog That Could…Fly.

It has been a long couple weeks in DuncanDes land, as all of us are adjusting to a life without out little Frenchie girl.  But, if Lucy taught us anything, it is to live life to its fullest, to get out of the armchair and into the yard (or even better, the mountains or canyons)…to snork in the flowers and crawl in the new grass, and above all – love your pups and people as much as you can.  Lou, we miss you so much, but you as always, would be right.

Would you like to share your supper?

So on the note of doing things you love, how about an update of Dunc’s Running Contacts?

Image by Great Dane Photos, 2012, used with permission.

Duncan, Desmond, Angus and I spent the weekend at the BARC Spring NADAC trial this past weekend.  I couldn’t think of a better place to be, and NADAC courses are beautifully made for pushing the speed on our running contacts.  That was our goal for the weekend:  Fast.  Happy.  And Confident.  I’d say we were successful.

Duncan and I have been working on his running contacts for about a year now.  I don’t admit to being the most diligent at working these throughout our trialling season last year, so it’s been a long road.  Last fall, I started to see progress, and began to push him in trials, moving from a barely managed run-through-the-contact-please-don’t-jump hope for the best method to the independent contacts in this weekend’s video.   We’re still not done, still have yet to work full height at home, but through trial and error (and a pile of cookies) he’s learning to find his striding on his own.  And as a result, instead of Shy Dunc, we have Super Confident Fly over the Apex Duncan, showing more speed throughout the entire course.

While true running contacts aren’t very common in my area yet, I know the word is out and there are several good agility folks contemplating training them.  While I am in no way an expert, I have whacked away at this project for many moons, and have learned a thing or two along the way.  In my finite wisdom, here is what I have figured out:

1)  Running contacts, true running contacts (with no management) are a lot of time and effort.  Prepare for many months of foundation training, trial and error, and a steep learning curve no matter what method you choose.  Two on/two off is a heck of a lot clearer as a criteria, but if you have good reasons, RCs can be the right choice.

2) If retraining a dog who had stopped contacts, prepare for failure in the ring.  If you are currently trialling, you’ll lose some Qs while you both figure it all out.

3) Running contacts are not just for World Team competitors.  I chose RCs because Duncan found stopping at the bottom of the contacts to be a real bummer, and I wanted to find a better way to keep his motivation high.  We are learning Sylvia Trkman’s method, because she recognizes RCs can be highly motivating for tentative dogs and drivey dogs alike.  I think this may be the case for all the other great RC training methods out there, but Sylvia is highly supportive of all speeds and size of dog, which was important to me.

4) During early training, a pivotal moment was being told we didn’t need RCs because Dunc wasn’t yet confident enough to run the contacts full out.  Nothing digs me in deeper than being told I can’t do something, and I’m even more stubborn when told Dunc can’t do it.  Inspiration can be found in random places…take it, run with it, and believe in your dog.

5) No matter what criteria you choose for your contacts, if you believe it’s right for you and your dog as a team, then go for it.  Deciding to abandon a 2o2o and train a RC was a leap of faith for Dunc and me, and maybe I was just stubborn enough, and Dunc trusting enough to make it work.  We still have a ways to go, but so far, so good.

Photo by Randy Gaines

It’s been a heck of an adventure, full of jumps and leaps and finally, YES finally, feet down a little more often than not. I couldn’t have chosen a better teammate to learn with.  Duncan is truly the Little Dog That Could.

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Lucy: 2003-2012. Adieu Sweet Girl

Earlier this week, we lost our Frenchie, Lucy, a constant source of joy in our lives.  After nearly nine years of ruling our house in her sassy, happy way, she had a sudden series of seizures that only worsened.  After a series of tests, we brought her home.  Four days later, with her boys and family around her, she left us peacefully.  She was only a few months short of her ninth birthday, and our beloved girl was taken from us far too soon.

But Lucy would tell me to stop being a drag and to celebrate the joy that she embodied every day of her life.  She’d probably bark in my ear, crawl into my lap and demand that I stop being such a bummer.  Let me share her story…

Lucy came to us by air, flown in from her breeder.  My first glimpse of her was in her travel crate; beating on the front door, clearly shouting “Let me OUT!!”  She launched into my arms, a tiny bundle of black and white fur, with waving feet and endless kisses.  She flew into our lives and proceeded to run amuck, leaving nothing but laughter and love in her wake.

We very carefully introduced her to our two Boxer boys, Sinjin and Angus, both 90+ pound bruisers compared to the 4-pound baby girl.  Sinjin sniffed at her with indifference and went back to his nap.  Angus took one look at her and fell head over paws in love.  (I needed no explanation of imprinting in the Twilight books…I’d seen it firsthand)  He was besotted with her from that moment, never again apart from her for more than a few hours.  I worried that Angus, the proverbial bull in a china shop would accidentally trample on this tiny girl.  Never fear…while Angus steps on everyone else daily, I never once saw him set a foot on his girl.   In fact, I’m certain he once took a direct hit from a skunk on her behalf.  They’d raced off across the field in hot pursuit, but I only heard Lucy barking.  I can imagine Angus, flinging himself bodily in between Lucy and the skunk saying ‘noooooooooo’ in a slow motion voice.  Poor guy, when wet he smelled of skunk for almost a year, but always seemed to be doing things like that for his Lucy.

Lucy soon took her place as ruler of the pack and our family.  She loved puppies and old dogs, and always kept our little pack in harmony.   In a lifetime of living with dogs, she has been my only girl, and was truly the beloved Queen Bee of our family.

She was a firecracker, a direct blast of ears and attitude, and everyone was powerless to do anything but adore her.  She especially loved Angus, popcorn, red wine and throwing her shoulder into her brothers to watch them go spinning over her (it’s a bulldog thing).  If you blew a raspberry, she’d roll over and wave her feet, asking you blow the next one on her tummy.

Lucy absolutely loved to hike.  When we would put on her purple pick-her-up-if-she-gets-stuck harness and her I’m-not-a-coyote bandanna, she would start to dance, those little white feet beating a pattern on the truck seat all the way into the hills.   She’s probably the only Frenchie to have gone backpacking to the bottom of Neon canyon in the Escalante, to the top of the Sawtooths or wading in the high lakes of the Trinities.  Most nights, even though she had her own backpacking sweater, she would wind up snuggled with my husband in his sleeping bag.  She also adored going chukar hunting in the Owyhees, grinning her big bulldog grin while riding sandwiched between my husband and I on the ATV ride down.

She was a noisy little creature, and the house seems too quiet without her.  She’d bark at falling leaves, or farting grasshoppers, riling up the other pups in the process, leading the charge to attack invisible phantoms.  Every now and then, I would catch her standing in the living room, barking at nothing, just to get the other dogs to come downstairs and bark with her.  I swear she’d wink at me at these times as if to say:  boys are soooo gullible!  She snored like a buzzsaw, snorking and snorting through the night, only relieved by her love of diving under the covers in the early morning.  She would curl up in the small of my back…and while I couldn’t hear her quite so clearly, it was like napping with a pleasantly furry two-cycle engine.

Lucy was unapologetically friendly, never having met a stranger she couldn’t charm.  She was the Jedi master of bulldozing her way into the hearts of just about anyone she met, accumulating many non-dog people as her ardent fans.  She was just irresistible that way, never taking no for an answer, relentlessly working on a new person until she had them wound around her little paw just like everyone else.

And wound around her paw we will remain.  Lucy was special.  As my father (completely smitten with her) said,

“Lucy spent her entire life making everyone around her happy.  What a great way to have lived.”

I couldn’t say it better.  Lucy, our little Frog-Dog, you have forever left your little paw prints all over our hearts.  You lived your life to the fullest each and every day, in your unapologetically happy way, always willing to share a snork and a kiss, and always willing to hop into my lap for popcorn and a stolen nip of red wine.

I hope she’s sitting on that big couch in the sky with her brother, Sinjin, waiting to join us on the next family hiking adventure.  Lucy, we miss you terribly.  For us, the world is a little dimmer, but we will always remember you with a smile.  Thank you for sharing your life…and your sassy Frenchie love with us.

A Full Helping of Nationals with a Side of Awesome

Duncan and I returned from AKC Agility Nationals in Reno early this week.  After working all last year to earn our points to go, I wondered if would be worth it.  In a word – absolutely.  It was most definitely worth the time, the effort and the trip.

We arrived on Thursday to find three identical courses set on the floor of the rodeo arena.  (With a fourth course set in an adjacent arena in another building).  At that moment, gazing across the immense space, I realized what a huge deal this was, and was simply happy to be there, having earned the opportunity to run here with Duncan.

Thanks to Donna for taking this picture when I didn't!

There was a lot to learn the first day…mainly how to get to the gate on time!  With about 170 dogs in our 12″ jump height, we had three walk throughs, with a big crowd in each 8 minute walking group.  That meant that I rarely saw the lines of obstacles, simply because there was always someone in front of me, walking their course.  More than once when actually running, I saw a line of jumps only to wonder if that was the correct direction…because that was the first time I’d seen it clearly!  I was impressed with that many people on the course at once, most were very polite, with no major crashes.  With one small exception…you know who you are Sheltie-lady.  I felt no sadness watching your pup go flying to an off-course jump, while Duncan nailed it.  Listening to an Ipod while walking the course may maintain your zen-like sense of concentration, but it really sucks for the twelve other people trying to walk right behind you…

Meanwhile, Duncan was handling the crowds and the arena with finesse.  I was most impressed with his ability to walk through the dozens of dogs and across the massive arena while squeaking with joy.  He took it all in, shrugged and his look asked me plainly “it’s just another trial…mama, why are you so excited??”

But back to the main event – running!  Friday was Time 2 Beat, basically a practice run.  Duncan ran beautifully, nice, solid and fast, with no issues.  Good thing he had his brain together because I used up all of my energy trying to figure out how to get in the ring.  We were given tags with UPC codes to attach to our leashes.  As the dog before us crossed the start line, they would scan your tag.  Fantastic for knowing which dog was running, terrible for handler focus!  But the cool part was that on my way back to the crating area, I could scan our tag and find out our time and score…immediately.

They also had the run order updating in the crating area, which was a 5-8 minute walk from the rings, and in a separate building.  This was so helpful in knowing when to leave for the rings without having too much time waiting in a crowd ring-side.

Early Saturday, Duncan and I got to meet the other 11 Canine Partners running in the NAC.  They brought us together for a group photo, and I met several amazing teams who we cheered on through the finals.  That day, we ran JWW and Standard (sans table).  Dunc had a lovely JWW, and his Standard was again fast and happy.  I would throw my  support into a campaign to eradicate the boring table from the Standard courses…Dunc loved it!  After two combined runs, Duncan was sitting somewhere around 70th place Saturday night.

Sunday we ran hybrid.  I will admit to doing a crash course in what hybrid was the night before.  Basically, take the table and dogwalk from a Standard course, and there you go…hybrid.  And finally…we got the Nationals course that I’d been training for.   Our three previous courses were great, but not the technical monsters I’d expected to find at the NAC trial.  All three early courses flowed fairly well.  Sunday morning’s hybrid changed that.  At first glance of the course map, I counted three front crosses in the first five obstacles.  A huge smile came across my face.  Now THIS is nationals!!  While Duncan may not have the most speed on course, he is consistent.  When the courses go all twisty, he really shines.

And shine he did.  His speed was steady off the line and built through the run.  He ran beautifully for me all weekend, and that last run just was the icing on the Dunkie cake.  After we crossed the line, I spent a moment on the arena floor with my boy, taking it all in.  We ran 4/4 runs clean.  He ran happy in the most chaotic environment he’d ever been in.  And not only had he earned his way to Nationals, he’d run an amazing four runs there.

When the final standings came in, Duncan finished his three cumulative runs in 36th place, out of 171 dogs.  I am so very proud of how brave, how happy and how amazing this little boy of mine can be.

Even better?  How great everyone from Idaho and Utah did!  Our fantastic traveling partner, Muligan also went 4/4, earning 30th place in the 12″ overall.  And our friends in 12″ P and 20″ really rocked, too.

Watching the challenger and finals rounds was amazing…I witnessed some beautiful handling, and fantastic teams.   Des and I have our work cut out, but I’m definitely inspired!

Challenger's Walk Through

Overall, the experience for me was all about the people and dog friends.  My Team Little Dog partner and I had a great trip, and a great trial.  I cheered for our Idaho/Utah friends, because no matter the standings, simply running there was an achievement.  Once again, I’m simply proud to be part of this crazy dog person world…these are my people, and we are honored to be a part of it.

Duncan and I got to run together…in a National trial.  That’s all.  And that’s amazing!