Saturday, March 29, 2008

The (Rear) End

(the rear beginning)

Today's the day.

I woke up before five this morning and I'm now fighting Trevor (who wants his morning snuggle) to get this typed in time for me to leave to meet my parents and head out.

Since September 1, 2007, I have walked 270 miles (original goal = 200) with Oscar. My parents' dog Jackie came along for many of those and one or both of my parents joined her. It wasn't much more than a year ago that I literally could not walk a third of a mile - a friend had to get in her car and drive that distance and pick me up. Now that I've shared that humiliation with you, I'll casually mention that for the past several weeks, we've been walking five miles a day.

Today I will walk 3.1 more.

You've helped me raise over $700 (original goal = $500) and there may be time for you to get another few in there (I'm not sure when the site stops accepting money for this event) - if everyone who reads this gives just a few dollars, we could easily double that original goal!

Thank you all for your support on this - it has changed my life. And hopefully, the awareness and money that we raised could change someone else's as well.

Can't write more - gotta run walk!

Last Chance!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Support a Search & Rescue Dog... Get Lost.

(isn't this a gorgeous poetic photo my friend Greg took?)Oscar and I took part in a Search & Rescue dog seminar this weekend. We are very lucky to train at a school that greatly enjoys the company of a spotty class clown and that is maybe two miles down the road from a junk site that is used in training rescue dogs all up and down the East Coast. NYC K9, Miami K9 - all kinds of big-wig K9 units come to teach their dogs how to save lives. And this is why:

A whole lot of every kind of tricky terrain you can think of - natural rocks, sand quarries, heavy brush, broken down vehicles, wooden scrap, and cement piles. Anything that could happen in any disaster, natural or otherwise, can be found here (okay, I don't think they've figured out how to get lava here, but I'm sure that's only because they wouldn't ask their dogs to work in it). So these training groups come here, hide, and ask their dogs to find them. And that's what we started learning to do.

Here's Oscar in his Search & Rescue uniform rescuing someone.
No? Okay, this was actually a dog who works with FEMA, who happened to be there training. Her handlers took her off to play somewhere, the instructor for our seminar hid somewhere in there (this cement pile was easily two stories high, and none of the people knew where she hid). The handlers waited a bit and asked the dog to find her (with no identifying items).
About three minutes later, she'd climbed up to the top of the pile, wandered around just a bit, then started barking here.
And out popped Stephanie. (By "popped" I mean, it only took two FEMA handlers and the dog to pull her up out of the hole she'd gotten herself into) It was amazing.

One of the other cool things they had at the site was the main reason I knew Oscar would excel at SAR work. My boy is an agile little clown. And they had an agility training set up.

Time after time I've seen dogs struggle with these sorts of things. People always say to me "dogs forget they have back feet" and watching most of them try to walk a ladder for the very first time, I believe it. Some dogs really freak out and shake. Some dogs freeze and need to have their handlers pick up their feet and move them. Some need to be coaxed every step of the way.

And some take off at a run, never missing a step, with their handlers dangling along behind them.

Never forgetting their big grins and wagging tails.

There were a lot of fun obstacles that we haven't seen before - we've done a horizontal ladder, but the rungs were very different on these. The poetic photo at the top was a chain link fence suspended between two platforms about five feet off the ground, and the dogs had to walk across it. The bridge below was very floopy and made loud noises. Not enough to slow my friend down, though.

And is it my imagination, or has someone been doing his "Buns of Steel" videos?

One of the times we went through the course, we got towards the end of the line. The dogs in front of us got a little slow. (Oscar and I were very well behaved and neither of us laughed nor called them chicken) (we thought it, though) After waiting a few minutes, Oscar was sitting at one end of the above platform, decided he was bored and would head for another obstacle. The obvious route (to him, anyway) was jumping off the platform, over my head (which tops off at 5'6"), to the ground. It took a few minutes, but my heart is now beating again, thank you.

We don't have pictures of the attempts to get him to retrieve an item or bark, because both of these tasks were embarrassing.

Oscar is motivated by ME first - he wants to be with me, he wants to be praised by me, he wants to be touching me. And then waaaaaayy down the list, he wants food. He does not care one iota for toys. So for the segment of the seminar that involved the dog finding an item in the woods, we made several attempts at getting him excited by a toy, and then decided that I had to be his item. So there I go into the deep grass, hiding much less successfully than the last tennis ball, and he came to get me. I loved the teacher. Oscar was the only dog that completely bombed at this exercise and she said to me "which is more important - that he doesn't want to find a tennis ball or that he really wants to find a person?"

As for barking to alert that he's found that person... well... He doesn't bark. That is, he can, he just chooses not to. He has a big, booming, scare-the-pants-off-of-you security bark that I hear maybe once a month, if that frequently. He has a "theresadogoverthereandireallywanttogoplaycanimacanipleasepleaseplease" yip that sounds a good bit like what I'd imagine a chipmunk orgy would sounds like. I generally only hear this on walks, and and that's pretty rare too, but I thought we might be able to get this out of him. We didn't. We did learn that when I am buried in rubble, including a large chain link fence that is too heavy for me to lift off, he will run back and forth between me and the person on the other end of the leash, licking both of us madly, and then climb the fence. That's actually another method of alert, called "recall refind" so that's what we would use for him, and that's how he found Stephanie in her tunnel.
It's a very intense training, with competition style tests at each level. We won't go far in it (no point - at four-and-a-half years old, by the time Oscar passed all the tests he'd only have a short time "in the field" before retirement) but he loves school so we'll go as far as we can and still have fun. The seminar was based on a fairly new program, called RH (aka Rettungshundtauglichkeitspruefung) started by the IRO (International Rescue dog Organization) to formalize a standard of training, so that all over the world, any time a dog is called in to work a disaster, the people making the calls know what kind of training each dog has had.

Obviously these groups are founded and organized by German Shepherd fans. Oscar and I very graciously choose not to hold it against them that they spend their time with lesser dogs. This was not at all influenced by the fact that we were the only pit bull team and were in places where the question "where should we hide the bodies" had many plausible answers. Some of my favorite moments were when Oscar was being flirty and slutty and lovin' up on the teacher and she looked at me and said "I've never been this close to a pit bull before but this is delightful!" She may or may not have gotten someone else's tongue in her mouth at that moment, I'm not sure. Other times, when Oscar was being flirty and slutty and lovin' up on other people in the class (are you seeing a trend in my dog's behavior?) and I would try to pull him off of someone's lap saying "honey, they don't think you're as cute as I do" - every time I said that, someone (with their shepherd right there, where they could hear!!) said "Yes we do!"
(please note it took three photos for them to get one of Oscar not climbing in my lap or licking the ear of poor Jack next to us. Notice my straight arms - I'm actually pushing him off me)

It was an amazing weekend and I was kinda hoping he'd be tired enough that I'd get extra sleep today, but he's asking to go for a walk now. Since I hurt all over (and have little dog foot sized bruises all over my body) it'll just be a short one today, and then we'll pick up work for the cancer walk tomorrow. Two weeks to go and I'm 68% to the goal!!!

Friday, March 14, 2008

This is NOT what pneumonia looks like

Obviously I have been remiss in keeping Oscar's fans up to date on his recovery. I've gotten no fewer than a dozen phone calls, e-mails and various messages asking how the beast is doing. I can't tell you how much that tickles me!

One week after diagnosis, we went to his regular (non-emergency) vet for a follow-up. We'd taken the week off completely from class, training or walks. When the vet asked how he was doing, I responded with "you either need to give me permission to walk him or a frying pan to knock him out." She gave us permission to walk at 50% for the next week (she actually said "well, we did have some Pampered Chef dropped off in the back...) and said we could resume regular activity after that.

So to our knowledge, he's 100% better now. Monday morning we went back to full walks, and in fact I walked five miles a day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week. Oscar and I have a very big weekend ahead of us (I may tell you about that next week) so we took off today and will probably take off Monday as well.

But once we were given permission to walk and train again, we went back to training on that formal heel I mentioned a few weeks ago - where he's supposed to be looking at me. He's improved a great deal, and here's proof!

For those unfamiliar with doggy bling, the training collar he's wearing looks pretty harsh - it's not. It's called a prong collar, many trainers recommend them (when used properly) and a slight tug on the leash pinches ever so slightly on his neck to clue him in. If you'll watch, you'll see I don't need to do that all that often. (It's not pushing into his neck, that's a shadow - I have rubber tips on his because otherwise he gets ring around the collar from the metal.)

He's really improved a lot at both looking at me and not leaning. If you watch his elbows when I ask him to down, you'll see his little cheat - he levitates there until I say "all the way". About halfway through the video you'll see me intentionally drop a bunch of treats on the ground in front of us, then move on to what we've been working on most recently - the about face, in which I spin to my left, but he comes around behind me and ends up back in the heel position. A moment later, you'll also see me stop and down him right on top of the treats - Oscar for the most part ignores those, until I point them out to him directly. That's what he's supposed to do, so he did good.

Even if you aren't interested in the training, you may want to take a peek at the very end to see what happens when I say "YAY!" to Oscar. You gotta admit, that's a cute dog.

And the tail never stops wagging.

Marriage is love.