NADAC Agility trial – Gush!!


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We still have another day of trialing to go tomorrow, but today was SO AMAZINGLY AWESOME I just couldn’t wait to post.  I want to remember this feeling.  Awesome!

Today, for the first time ever, we tried some bonus boxes.  While we didn’t fully complete either course from within the box, it was still awesome!!!!!!!!!!  I was so so so proud of Zora!!  And the practice we’ve been doing.  She WAS FANTASTIC!  I love that little dog.

Attempting the bonus runs was exhilarating.  I had so much fun!  I think Zora did too (I hope).  Our first bonus attempt was the very first course of the day – Elite Regular Round 1.  We’ve been struggling with the turn and send away still in practice, so it doesn’t surprise me we did on this course either.  BUT!!  She nailed that lead out line, I was so happy with that!!  I was also thrilled with the distance we were able to do even after I left the bonus box.

Our 2nd bonus attempt was in Elite Tunnelers.  After our barrelers run, I took migraine meds and Tom and I went off to the car to nurse it, and told my husband he could run Zora in tunnelers.  Then I was informed there was a bonus box on that course and I reneged  (I blame my reneging on Maxalt and the length of time we had between barrelers and tunnelers, damn when that stuff works it works really really well for me).  Poor guy.  Thankfully he is a really great sport, and had fun laughing at me about it.  LOL.

When I walked the course, I thought, “Hmm, we’ve been working on that switch turn away on a box, but doing it on a tunnel is still often a struggle first time for us, we’ll give it a try but I’ll plan on helping her if she needs”  Yup that’s the spot she needed my help.  It was still awesome fun!!  Again her lead out made me so so so happy.  We had a while where she’d have likely come to me instead of going straight into that #1 tunnel, so I was thrilled we’ve worked so hard on that!  It paid off!!

We also now only need 3 more jumpers qualifiers to complete our NATCH!  (NADAC Agility Trial Champion).  I’m so excited!

It was a great day!!  Not many Qs, but awesome runs!!  I’m so happy.  Damn I love this little corgi dog!

Also, Zora says Tuna Brownies are excellent and I should think to make them more often.  Tom equally agrees.  Seriously, they both snubbed the cheese I offered them and held out for the tuna!  If you don’t know about tuna brownies, here is the recipe I use.  Be warned, your dog might stalk your fridge after.

Tuna Brownies:

In a bowl beat with a mixer until well combined and fairly smooth:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 6 oz can tuna in water (undrained)
  • 1 6 oz can tuna (water drained out)
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (optional)
  • 1 Tbs garlic powder (optional)

Then using a spatula, mix in until well combined and dough looks glossy:  1 to 1.5 tapioca starch.  Tapioca starch is one of the coolest ‘flours’ to bake or cook with.  I love the stuff, use it all the time.  In this recipe it helps the cooked dog treats be more doughy and less crumbly.  You can use regular flour of some kind as a replacement, but if you do these treats are likely to be crumbly and maybe flakey.  I prefer the doughy option that tapioca starch gives especially for training treats as they are easier to toss while still being soft enough to break up with your fingers.

Pre-heat the oven to 350’F.  Grease or line with parchment paper a cookie sheet or other baking dish.

Plop the dough onto the prepped cookie sheet, then press into a 1/2″ thick disk or squarish shape.

Bake for 15-20min.  Remove from baking tray and cool on a wire rack.

Once cool use a pizza cutter wheel or knife (pizza cutter wheel is waaaaay easier) to cut into bite sized dog treat pieces.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge (after of course letting your dog sample your wares, need to make sure you get their seal of approval, right?)

International Guide Dog Day!


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April 26th is International Guide Dog Day.  This year I thought I’d give a little of my own history with guide dogs.

This is James.


James, a black dog with long-ish fur, in the green grass with his bright yellow Cuz toy

James was my first guide dog, though he didn’t start out as such.  When I was 18 I moved to Pittsburgh, PA to attend college.  I rented an apartment, and Regal (my first flat coat) and I moved in.  To find the apartment, I had connected with some dog people in the area, who after I moved in invited me to attend an agility fun day to get to know folks.

At that fun day, a young family with a puppy was spectating.  I went over to pet the cute puppy and long story short thanks to a forgiving landlord within 2 hours said puppy was now my James.  He was probably around 12wks or so, a black retriever type dog, as he grew he resembled more and more a flat coated retriever in build and type, though I have no idea if he actually was.  Regardless, it was either life with me or a trip to the local animal shelter, and I think his life with me over the years was a pretty good gig for him.

James grew up in downtown Pittsburgh, and I raised him as I do my puppies with the idea of doing competition agility, obedience and the like.  We went to the park every day before I headed to school.  On the weekends we often went to a dog training class, or walking with friends.

When James was about 10months old, my health concerns became such that I withdrew from university and returned back home to New England.  James and Regal it tow of course.  In a unfamiliar city with the pressures of college (and a bus system, oh dear lord the bus system was really the final straw, can I tell you how lost I got on that damn bus system?  How many miles I walked after I took the wrong one, got off at the wrong stop?  How many classes I missed trying to get to school on the bus?  How terrifyingly lost I found myself over and over?  How I used to I’d wait at the bus stop until someone I knew lived near me happened to also be taking the bus so I could unknown to them simply follow them?  I still stress at the idea of riding the bus even here at home).  I could no longer hide the problems I’d been having increasingly throughout high school, it was time to figure out what was wrong and what to do about it.

A few months into trying to figure out my health stuff, it was suggested by my medical team I might benefit from a service dog.  I’d been training dogs for most of my life, and James showed various aptitudes that he might be suitable.  Hence his career path shift at that point.

He was originally trained in various supportive tasks primarily for my panic attacks, migraines and what we later figured out was actually sensory overload shut down.  As my challenges with visual processing became glaringly apparent as they increased over time, James was trained more and more in guide tasks.  By the time I had to stop driving completely, he was 5 or so and working as a guide dog.


James in harness sleeping on his white and blue checked blanket during a class I was taking

James was a huge part of my life and having him helped me gain the confidence to get out and live my life.  With James, I had the confidence to travel both across the country, and across the world (we went to Japan together).  To get out shopping on my own.  To further attend college classes.  To explore opportunities with my business.  To eventually move out of my parent’s house into my own place.  With James I felt safe in a way that I never had before in my life.  He took care of the details, bringing to my attention what I needed to process and gave my nervous system a break from the constant influx of data that our world throws out.

When James was 7 he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in a front leg and immediately retired.  We then had a further fantastic 6 months before his leg ultimately shattered and I made the difficult decision to let him go.

A few months prior to James’ cancer diagnosis, he had begun to slow down and show me signs that I should start planning for the future.  I had originally intended to owner train my next guide dog, same as I had James.  But, I found the statistic that less than 1% of the general dog population has the aptitude, health, structure, temperament and the like for public access service work to be true.  After a couple of failed potential prospect puppies, I decided to go the formal guide dog program route.  A path that lead to further independent travel skills and eventually to Tom.  But I think that’s a story for another day.  One I will likely tell in a couple of days on May 1st for Tom and my 6 years of partnership anniversary.

To say that James changed my life is an understatement.  I had no idea when I took that little black ball of fur into my life, completely unplanned, that he would play such an important role.  I count 3 positives (and a super long list of negatives) that came out of my attempts at college life in Pittsburgh, James hands down tops the list.  He was a wonderful dog, and I will miss him and be grateful to him always for the life he helped enable me to live.  Thanks J, you were one of a kind.

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James and I standing outside a Japanese temple on the island of Okinawa



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You know those moments when you love and appreciate your dog so much you find yourself crying?

I do that with Tom a lot.  Especially at times of vision transition and flux.

He’s such a good dog.  I cannot describe how much I love him.

Every couple of years or so my visual system shifts again.  No one in the medical field really knows why.  I have a screwed up nervous system, that seems to be the current answer.  I’ve given up trying to find answers to the why, instead I focus on the what and the how.  As in what do I need to learn/change/adjust?  or how will I now do x, y or z?

Usually before I get to the what and how stage, I live in the denial stage for a bit.  Ok, as long as I feasibly can quite frankly.  Because figuring out a new status quo can be frustrating, and scary, and a whole slew of emotions I get tired of processing through each transition.

Tom always seems to know things are shifting or have shifted long before I’m ready to acknowledge it.  So he adapts, and he starts bringing to my awareness obstacles or things that before he didn’t have to.  And if I’m really stuck in denial, I get a little annoyed with him and try to hurry him along.  I argue with him, I don’t need to know about all of these roots!  Can’t we just go back to the old way?  You only tell me about the really big ones?  Come on!  Let’s go!  Yet, he keeps doing his job.  He’s right.  I now need to know about every single root.

Eventually I face reality.

And am yet again reminded what a wonderful dog Tom is.


Tom resting his head on a blanket, face close to the camera

Trick Dog Practice!


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Today Zora and I reviewed some of our tricks in prep for taking the new AKC Trick Dog tests.

Her balance beam trick is my favorite.  I taught it to her last summer on a whim, balancing on a 4×4″ beam we had in the back yard.  It was hysterical fun.  The one we had in the back yard was long enough for her to turn around completely on without any feet touching the ground.  And at the dismount she’d do her paws up cuteness trick, adorable.  And funny.  We were both laughing her and me.

Our Novice Trick practice video:

We also practiced some of our intermediate and advanced tricks.

Some of our intermediate tricks especially need some brush up.  Her getting a toy by name has obviously gotten a bit rusty!  And I think I might change which of our Advanced tricks we do in the evaluation. Maybe add in her skateboarding trick, or her weave poles.

Tricks are a fun way to train, bond and just enjoy time with my dogs.  Many of the things we’ve done as tricks turn out to be incredibly useful skills as well.  I don’t often purposefully decide “today I’m going to teach my dog a trick!”  For us tricks are usually more a result of life necessity (such as I swear to god we are not going to lose yet another tennis ball in this field!!) or boredom (like her shark avoidance trick.  Where I was bored after 3 days of bed rest and she brought me her fish toy.  So I made the JAWS music and pretended the fish was a shark coming at her.   She learned to “abandon ship!!!”  leaping happily from the bed as I sang the JAWS ‘dun dun. dun dun.’ theme.  I really need to video that one, it’s hysterical)

Hedge Your Bets


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“Wow I’m impressed he behaved himself with such a crew!”

Is a response I received from the owners of a dog, Rascal, I have staying with me currently after I sent her some video clips of our group walk in the woods this morning.

Video clips where he was among a group of dogs, doing his own thing, having a good time sniffing and wandering in the fields and pine forest.  Video clips where he wasn’t barking, lunging, dragging or otherwise upset.

Her surprise doesn’t surprise me as her dog is often upset and reactive around other dogs.  The owners have done a fantastic job getting Rascal to where he is, able to walk on leash passing other on leash dogs, but they are afraid to let him really engage with other dogs because ya there are many he doesn’t like.  Don’t blame him, he thinks young dogs especially are rude little snots.  He’s right much of the time.  LOL.  Like many of the dogs on my overnight string at any time, he needs support to be successful in social situations.  Often a lot of support.  Which is one of the reasons he comes to me when his owners are on vacation.  Because, I hedge my bets.  (and because his owners are awesome and they love when he’s happy)

Before gearing up for our walk this morning even began, I thought through what, if anything, would make this outing so the chance of success for Rascal would be near assured.  And I mentally went through a plan, with plenty of bail points in it should he tell me he really wasn’t ok with this.

Some key areas of my plan:

I know he trusts and is completely comfortable with my 2 dogs.  He is more likely to be ok with another dog if he feels Tom and Zora are ok with that dog.  They would both be on the walk.

I know he trusts me to keep him safe and is usually willing to defer to me for safety.  I of course would be on the walk.

I know he is highly food motivated, so I packed some extra awesome treats.

I know he is never trustworthy completely off leash (hound dog mix, he will follow his nose completely), so had my trusty easy to handle 30′ long line.

I also know having him with complete 30′ range to start to walk would be much harder to manage his initial introduction to the setting, so started him off on his regular walking leash and gentle leader that his owners use with him for daily walks, switching him to the long line only after I saw he was chill and happy with the environment and goings on.

I also knew because he’d be on the 30′ line and I’d be holding it the entire walk, having Tom in harness likely would massively complicate things with a hound mix zig zagging around Tom’s feet, so the trusty cane was brought out and used instead of the trusty guide dog.

I know he’s most likely to be comfortable around other dogs if he feels he has an escape route.  So we planned the walk at an area that starts off with huge wide open fields where the dogs all have plenty of room.

Video from the start of the walk in the large open green fields.  Zora and Rosie fetching the ball, Tom at my feet, and Rascal and Ted watching the 2 girls retrieve the ball:

I carefully planned what dogs he would be around.  Making sure they were all dogs that a. prefer to ignore other dogs if the other dog shows no interest in playing, b. have solid relationships with both myself and my walking friend and are willing to respond to what we ask quickly, c. all prefer to play with us humans and/or fetch the ball over playing directly with each other on the walk (meaning most likely dogs to ignore Rascal and give him whatever space he wants) and d. are all rather tolerant of some rudeness (ie not likely to react if Rascal showed some posturing)

I also planned and orchestrated the system for getting him most comfortably to and from the walking area in my friend’s car.  Loading all of the other dogs into the car first, leaving Rascal in a room in the house.  Then bringing him out alone, and keeping him at my feet during the ride providing him high rate of reinforcement and reassurance that all was well.  This also gave him space and time (on the 12min drive) to figure out the other dogs in the car had no interest in him at all, and he could relax (which he did), as the other dogs were in the car rows behind where he and I were with no chance of them encroaching on his space in the car.

My bail out plans included: assessing the arousal level of the regular group of dogs before getting Rascal out of the house.  If any of the usual walking group seemed atypically wound up or aroused, I would have left Rascal in the house and gone on the walk without him.  Then of course observing and monitoring Rascal from the time of putting his leash on in the house, through the walk to and loading in the car.  We sat in my driveway for an extra few moments, to double check that Rascal was settling in.  If at any point then he had shown he was uncomfortable, he would have gone back into the house and not gone on the walk.  If, while on the walk, he started to have trouble coping with the other dogs, I would have split off from my friend and walked just Rascal, Tom and Zora while she took her dogs to give Rascal more space.

Video from about 1/2 through the walk in the pine forest:

All of these pieces I thought about and planned long before my friend pulled into my driveway, and even before I put leashes on the dogs at all.

All of these pieces were key in setting Rascal up for success.

Had I not thought through the parts of a successful group walk for Rascal, chances are he would have had a miserable time as would we all have.  It would have been no fun, very stressful, and further reinforced for him that other dogs are scary and to be barked and lunged at.

Instead, all of these pieces were why Rascal had an awesome time on the walk.  Sniffing, romping, coming when called, getting some treats, and appropriately engaging with the other dogs.

All in all an excellent time was had by all!  Success!

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Post walk Rascal wagging his tail till it blurs and Zora sitting looking happy & tired in my kitchen nook


Act Up NADAC trial recap


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my club’s agility trial was this weekend.  Due to family commitments today, we only attended yesterday.  I was happier we went than I expected I would be. Because all last week I just plain didn’t want to go to any agility trials.  The health effects during and after the trial 2 weekends ago were hard, very hard.  But to support our club and because I’d previously volunteered to run the fundraising raffle, we went. And I think because I was engaging so much working folks to part with their hard earned cash and enter the raffle, I had a good time.  It was beyond exhausting, and my dogs really got the short end of the stick all day, but I helped the club raise some much needed funds.

Like I said unfortunately yesterday my dogs got less of my attention than they usually do at a trial.  Tom near had a panic attack until I let him actually do his job guiding me around and hanging under the table.  Zora and I had some pretty good runs. We are 20 points closer to our NATCH, and with the open barrelers Qs we earned,  now in Elite in every class.

Even more fun though was in a number of classes, I pushed myself and Zora. She’s already shown me if I handle her conservatively and in our comfort zone, she has no problems qualifying.  I mean she’s 2.5yrs old and has over 2500 points, that’s 250 qualifiers. And we only trial about 10 weekends a year. But conservative isn’t so much fun for me in the long run.  we have our first year of trialing under our belt,  I’m feeling more comfortable with her on course and it’s time to push ourselves the way we do in training.  So I really tried to do that in many of the courses, knowing it meant we likely wouldn’t qualify but work towards other goals.

The primary area I’m working to push our teamwork with is in the distance area.  Working on connection, communication, commitment and teamwork at ever increasing distances.

Our trial day started with 2 rounds of tunnelers.  I was super pleased with our first round.  Zora was moving at a nice clip, and working really well driving her lines away from me.  We trained the final switch out, which I thought we might end up doing, I was very pleased with her efforts!  She gave me her best!  The second round (same course) she was slower and more hesitant, waiting until I was really clear with each cue before taking it and continuing to move forward.  I noticed this all day yesterday, first round was always faster, more confident, 2nd round slower more cautious.  I think a factor is likely mental for me.  I think likely in the 2nd rounds of a same course, I get lazy thinking ‘oh we already did this once, it went rather well, we’re good to go for round 2!’ instead of really working to be as clear and crisp in round 2 as I was in round 1.  Something I will have to make a point to remember and practice!

Our 2 regular rounds were both Qs and again I was very pleased with her distance commitment!  I was able to run round 1 from a 10′ or so line in the center of the ring.  The 2nd round I needed to move off my line in 2 spots to support her further when she slowed questioning my signals.

Barrelers, like I mentioned we qualified in both rounds.  And I ran those courses rather conservatively, trying to assure as best I could we’d qualify as I wanted to be done with open.  The strategy worked, we are now in elite barrelers.

Chances, first round went ok.  She’s a good dog.  I was a sucky handler.  Round 2 was a complete hot mess, Zora was convinced I really couldn’t want her to go up the a-frame.  The course started hoop, a-frame to an out loop of jumps back to the a-frame for an out tunnel discrimination before ending on a fast line of hoops to tunnel and done.   In round 1 she had steamed up the a-frame the start, nailed the loop of jumps, then couldn’t find the out tunnel and we had a lot of messy redirects before she finally found it and took it.  Meaning I’d stopped her 3x in a row from taking the a-frame or any other more obvious to her near by jumps to redirect to the tunnel.  I can’t fault her in the least when about 10min later on round 2 I’m honestly wanting her to take the a-frame and she’s like ‘you’re nuts lady!  didn’t you just spend 15 seconds telling me I was wrong for thinking you wanted the a-frame last run?!’  So after she finally believed me and went up the a-frame, we did a quick silly line of jumps out to a tunnel and were done.

I seriously need to remove the concept of ‘fix it’ in that way from my trialing repertoire.  I don’t do that crap in practice!  In practice had we had the struggle to the out tunnel discrimination like we did in chances round 1, I would have sent her back around the loop of jumps, worked to set a better line for her so that coming off the jump loop she had a chance in hell to actually know the tunnel was there.  And that builds her trust in me and confidence.  Instead I did this stupid focus on the tunnel fix it to try to still manage to qualify and all I did was degrade my wonderful little dog’s trust in me!  Stupid stupid stupid!  Take the long range view Katrin!  The q’s are shit if they end with a dog who second guesses everything you ask of her.

At our next trial in 2 weeks, I vow to do better.  Trial like I train.  Keep the trust we have in practice alive in competition.  That is my goal!

Well Trained


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I’ve said for so many years, dogs are the best teachers in the business.  And there are so many ways I could go into that, but right now a funny story to demonstrate.

Last night my husband, who is in charge of taking the dogs (except Tom, as Tom refuses) out as many times as they require once he is home in the evenings, came in from taking Zora out chuckling.

“I think Zora is playing me.”

Oh, why?

“The past couple of evenings, she’s been asking to go out a lot more than usual.  I take her out and she immediately goes over the dog walk.  So I give her a treat for doing the contact.  Then she goes over the a-frame.  And I give her a treat for doing the contact.  Then she wants to come inside.”

By now I’m laughing too.  She really does have him trained.

My husband, while he loves our dogs, isn’t really a dog person.  He fully admits that if I wasn’t the driving force behind us having dogs, and if I didn’t take care of 99% of their needs, he wouldn’t have a dog.  But he is very good at upholding various rules and criteria if I ask him to (and an expert at petting them).  Such as Zora doing her trained contact behavior whenever she does a dog walk or an a-frame.  With me, if I don’t ask her to do the equipment and she does it on her own while we out for a potty break, I either ignore her or lightly praise her for doing it correctly, and interrupt her if she doesn’t do her trained contact behavior.  My husband apparently didn’t get that part of the memo, LOL.  All of this time he’s been giving Zora a treat every single time she happens to put herself up and over a contact obstacle and does her trained contact behavior in the yard when he has her out.  So she figured out how to get him to do it even more often.

Zora has him trained to do many behaviors.  This one I’m rather impressed with.  Particularly because we had a period where she did something similar, getting him to take her out many many times in an evening because he was giving her a treat every time she came back inside.  Once I noticed what was happening, we changed the instructions for him so she only got a treat for coming inside if she actually toileted outside when he took her out.  No treats for crying wolf.  Her asking to go out then dropped off drastically to a reasonable 1-2x an evening.  By asking to go out then doing the contact obstacles, she found a loop hole.  Zora is one smart cookie.  Who really enjoys her cookies whatever way she can get them.

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Zora lounging on my husband’s lap.  She’s totally has him wrapped around her corgi paws.  LOL

Managing My Chronic Pain


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This past weekend a good friend came by for a visit with her sister, who was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  I’m going on about 12 years or so post diagnosis, and she’s in the ‘what is happening to me?!’ stage seeking support.  I was happy to help.  It was nice to feel like my learned life experience could potentially help and benefit someone else during their time of processing and transition.

One of the main things she was interested in and wanted to talk about was my strategies for pain management.  Along with how I cope without feeling overwhelmed or hopeless (news flash: some days I do feel overwhelmed and hopeless).  She seemed to find these things rather useful to consider so here are some key strategies I’ve learned to practice over the years.

A disclaimer:  I’m not a medical professional and don’t claim to be.  These are just some things I’ve learned work for me some of to most of the time (or sometimes not at all).  Your experience may (and probably will) differ.

One of the top things I’ve learned on this journey through chronic pain: it’s fluid.  There is no stable ground.  I’ve learned that the only thing to assume is that things will change. So it’s helpful to have a variety of strategies in my tool box.  And to not become to firmly entrenched in any of them.  Be prepared to wake up one morning, find my body in revolt with none of my usual go to techniques working and it’s back to the drawing board.

Yes, I find this fact (often) (incredibly) frustrating.  Especially because I like, I crave stability and a status quo.  Yea, not my reality.  Chronic pain and an atypical nervous system definitely nudges me more toward the ‘go with the flow’ and be adaptable despite my deep resistance to it at times.   The mental “should” voice and the “But I want to!!!!” or the “This is not what I imagined in life!!!!” temper tantrums happen.    Which leads me to one of the other things I’ve learned is incredibly important to have: a good support system.


Zora and I sitting in a lawn chair outside in the nice weather

My support system is comprised of beings (people and dogs) who will give me a much needed reality check reminder “yea Katrin, shoulds are a fairy tale.  let it go.”  Listen to me when I need to scream, cry, vent or celebrate.   Often not only listen but emote with me; we laugh together, cry together, scream together, empathize and sympathize together.  They remind me to practice self care.  They sit on me and don’t let me out of bed Tom and Zora…And essentially remind me to be nicer to myself.  More forgiving.  More understanding.  More empathetic.  My support system over the years has become filled with good peoples.  For which I am eternally grateful.  Along the way to the support system I presently have, I made a number of mistakes (and still do, but hopefully different mistakes).  I’ve learned, let some people go, gained some others, learned which folks in my life are good at what times in theirs, learned how I can best support them, and so on.  Trial and error.  Relationships are always a work in progress.  More fluid.  It’s a theme.

A 3rd key in this for me is data tracking.  I love numbers.  I thoroughly enjoy maths.  And data.  Numbers and data make me feel in control.  They make something that often feels so arbitrary and fickle more real.  Data tracking helps me find patterns that I likely otherwise would be unaware of.  Data tracking helps me to be proactive in my management strategies.  And helps make it harder to shift into binary thinking, the “this will never end!” “I’m always in pain!”  the all or nothing.  The slippery fast slope to overwhelm and hopelessness.  It’s hard to say “this will never end!” when you have concrete proof that just 3 days ago you had at least 3 hours where the pain was 3 points less and therefore positively not the same level.

Over the years my data tracking has shifted and changed as the need arises (again: fluid).  When I was figuring out how what I ate impacted my health (more on that in a moment), I tracked what I was eating, drinking and how I was feeling.  When I was tackling my severe insomnia (more on that too in a few lines), I tracked my sleep habits and patterns and how I was feeling.  Currently I track my pain and fatigue levels a few set times a day against a set written out scale.  So if I jot down a number 3 it always means the same descriptive symptoms or state of being.  If I jot down a number 7 it always means the same descriptive symptoms or state of being.  From 1 to 10 each for pain and for fatigue levels (I couldn’t find a fatigue scale I found useful so I created my own descriptions for each number).  I then do weekly averages, and monthly averages (which takes the work out of those doctor’s questions of “over the past 2 weeks how would you rate your pain?”).  Quarterly I fill out the more comprehensive McGill pain assessment to help over the years better track how season changes affect me.  Through this tracking I’ve been able to notice patterns and trends more readily and anticipate more easily how events, weather, seasons and such will affect me.  This allows me to be more pro-active and responsive and less reactive to my situations.  Data tracking has also enabled me to recognize changes in my symptoms faster (cuz denial ain’t just a river in egypt for me) which has proven useful a number of times.  My data tracking is nothing fancy, no computer even.  Just a printed out sheet with slots for each day of the month, a pen, and a regular old calculator for the averages, kept on the kitchen table where I don’t forget about it.

When I jot down my data tracking numbers, the other thing I do is write in my joy journal.  I began a joy journal a few years ago and have found it incredibly helpful for maintaining positive perspective.  At the start of each year I get a small book calendar that has a separate blank page for every day of the coming year.  Then every day I write down at least one thing I found joy in that day.  It’s incredibly rare, even on my worst pain or fatigue day that I end up with just 1 thing.  Sometimes my joy is something simple like sitting with the ducks, or snuggling with the dogs in bed.  Sometimes I jot down my joy in the weather, or that I had a nice connection with a friend.  Sometimes my joy is that heating pads exist or that we have electricity to power a freezer.  Or just even that I’m at a present place in my life where I have the freedom to be sick and not have to worry about paying the mortgage.  I’ve found after this practice day after day for a couple of years, I can find a slice of joy no matter how trivial it may seem in every single day.  Which I like.  It helps remind me to smile.

5th I control my diet a lot.  For me, diet and what I’m eating or drinking plays a critical key role in pain management.  Migraines are the easiest to control through diet for me.  My migraines are triggered by a number of factors, but food is one of the ones I actually have control over.  I can’t control the weather, or the barometric pressure, or the sunlight or other things.  But I can control what I eat.  So I do.  For me diet control is the difference between 1-2 migraines a month on average and a migraine cluster only about 2-3 times a year with only as needed migraine medication, and 20-30 migraines a month and daily migraine management medication that would eventually harm my liver.   To a lesser degree I manage my fibromyalgia pain through diet, but mostly my food choices are for migraine control.

6th I have over the years found a medical and supplemental health care team that works for me.  My body rejects (often severely) most medications and synthetic substances, so I’ve learned (the hard way) to take the often attitude of “the cure is worse than the disease” when it comes to medications.  It took me years to just find a multivitamin that my body could and would tolerate.  The medical team I currently have has been through enough of my body’s rejections of modern medical medication advances to be just as hesitant as I am (because apparently they too have embraced that things like grandmal seizures, tremors or hives aren’t a placebo either).  It’s been trial and error over the years to figure out how my body responds to alternative modalities like massage, chiropractic and acupuncture too.  And I now use those approaches as necessary.

Practicing good sleep hygiene is also a key for me.  It’s not a cure all.  I mean I still laugh every time a doctor asks me if I wake up rested after a night of sleep.  Rested?  What’s that feel like?  Hahahahaha.  Yea, no.  But at least I now and for the past few years (fingers crossed) at least sleep pretty regular hours.  And have figured out some workable strategies.  Such as: I cannot allow myself to fall asleep before 9:30pm routinely.  If I find myself falling asleep at 7 or 8pm for 2 nights in a row, I have to start forcing myself through whatever means it takes to stay up until 9pm.  Otherwise my sleep schedule will become royally screwed up and insomnia will quickly rear it’s head once more.  Or my husband cannot come to bed on an even hour if I’ve fallen asleep before him (which is nearly always, he’s a night owl).  If he comes to bed at 12 or 2am, I will wake up and then be unable to fall back to sleep for hours.  But if he comes to bed at say 12:20am or 1:45am or 2:17am, even if I rouse a little, I’ll pretty immediately fall back to sleep.  I also follow the routinely recommended sleepy hygiene practices of things like when to eat or not eat before bed, temperature regulation in the bedroom, minimizing technology and light, etc.  For a while I also kept a strict pre-sleep routine but I’ve been able to relax on that one the past couple of years.  During the cooler months, our heated mattress pad is amazing.  I definitely toss and turn and need to shift a lot less if it’s on for a bit as I fall asleep.  And central air was the best investment upgrade in the house I have ever done.  Since that was installed I actually can sleep in the warmer months rather consistently.

8th I live a rather (ok really) structured life.  The structure of this has shifted and changed sometimes drastically at various points in my chronic pain life.  Currently if you asked me what any given day of my week arbitrarily looks like I can give you a moment to moment break down simply because my day to day is very routine.  That routine may differ depending on what day of the week it is, but Tuesdays always look the way my structured routine is for Tuesdays, and Wednesdays always look the way my structured routine for Wednesdays is.  This routine and fine balance is what allows me what I term wiggle room.  Room for some spontaneity.  Room to do things that aren’t routine but I really want to do.  Room to plan and make space in my life for living not just managing.  My routines involve parts on exercise, rest, meeting the needs of the dogs and animals in my care, social time with others, getting  out of the house, meals, water, and everything else in between that many people don’t give second thought to.  Some people call this managing their spoons.  Another part in my structured routine life is the flexibility to abandon it all at a moment’s notice should my body demand.

And lastly for today, one of the most important management and coping strategies I’ve found: doing something I enjoy every single day.  4 days a week this is walking with my dogs.  Other days a week that might be enjoying some quality time with my ducks.  Or just being outside in the yard.  It might be practicing agility with Zora.  Or petting and snuggling on the floor with Tom.  It might be catching up on some of the TV shows I enjoy.  Reading a book, or taking an online learning course.  It might be concocting a new recipe.  Or day dreaming about changes I’d like to make to our house someday.  It might be sharing jokes and laughing with my husband.  Every day, even on the extremely challenging days, I try to find a way to do something that I enjoy even if for a few moments.

Practicing something I enjoy immensely:  walking with the dogs and friends in the woods

Tuesdays are a Favorite Day


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Because of the Tuesday Crew!  Every Tuesday I get to share my day with this bunch of special pups.  Tom, Zora, Ted, Dulce and then anyone happening to be visiting for overnight.

Ted and Dulce get dropped off bright and early.


Everyone leashed up and patiently waiting for our friend to arrive.  Tom, Ted, Lena, Zora & Dulce.  I don’t put Tom’s harness on until we arrive at our walking destination.

Then we all go for a great fun walk in the woods with other friends of ours.   Racing through the fields, playing the come game, searching for tennis balls, swimming, and generally mucking about having a ball being dogs.  They are all really good trail dogs at this point.


Dulce racing over a bridge on a snowy woods walk

Once back home they “help” me take care of the ducks. And by help I mean, they race around the back yard even more. How they still have energy after the amount they all expend on the walk, I have no idea.

Then its inside to clean up.   They all know the drill: Tom gets toweled, then Zora, then Dulce.  Unless Dulce is super muddy in which case she goes in the tub.  Ted gets a bath in the kitchen sink and a quick blow dry.  Heaven help me if I try to break the order.  They all are very keen to remind me I’m then doing it wrong!

And finally nap time.  My favorite part of the day.


Zora, Tom, Me, Ted & Dulce all on the couch for afternoon nap time

NADAC Trial Recap


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This weekend our agility trial season began.  It was AWESOME!!  We had such fun and overall had some really excellent runs.

I was incredibly pleased with Zora’s weave performance all weekend.  The practice we were able to do on weaves over the winter looks like it’s beginning to transfer to the trial setting which I’m thrilled about.  Her running contacts were also stellar all weekend.  On a couple of runs she was a bit funky about going up the dog walk, which I found odd, as other runs she had no issues.  So I’m needing to really closely review the videos to try to figure out why was it me, her or the equipment itself?

One of our Elite Regular rounds where I was very pleased:

This trial ran the Beta Format, where you run the same course twice.  I really am enjoying trials in this style.  Primarily because they run a lot faster, we were done each day around 3:30pm.  Trials where our runs are complete by 4pm are ideal for me, my functioning ability exponentially degrades rapidly after 4pm each day.

My favorite runs of the weekend?  I’m pretty tickled that we were one of the very few Elite dogs to qualify on both very challenging Chances courses.  My husband had decided to watch the bruins game, so unfortunately no videos of those.   But they were pretty awesome if I do say so myself.  LOL.

A super fun open barrelers course and run video!

Our last runs of the weekend this trial were back to back jumpers runs.  My mum had arrived to give us a lift home and in time to watch our jumpers runs.  In NADAC all jumps have double bars, so when we are a 4″ dog, 1 bar is on the jump cups and the 2nd bar is placed resting on the ground.  This has occasionally caused us some challenges as often the ring crew isn’t particular about where on the ground the 2nd bar is placed.  In the first round a combination of a late cue from me and poor placement on the ground bar caused us to knock a rail.  After the run my mum questioned why I didn’t ask the ring crew to be more careful about placing the ground bar correctly.

I have a couple of reasons for that.  1 and mostly because I feel us knocking such bars really boils down to laziness of training on my part.  When we train on jumps, I rarely pull out a 2nd bar for the ground.  To really work on this, I would ideally always or most of the time put the 2nd ground bar out when we train and I would practice with it in less than ideal positions.  I would teach Zora how to handle and adjust to clear the jump regardless of where the ground bar happened to end up.  And I would work to improve my timing on cues ever more (which I am currently doing).  And 2.  ring crew are volunteers.  And bar setting is often a job that needs 2-3+ people per ring and convincing people to volunteer is often hard enough as it is.  The last thing I want to do is potentially risk deterring someone from volunteering in any capacity at a trial because they are worried they might do it wrong.

In the second jumpers round, I was more careful with my cues and handling, and we kept the rails up in fast enough time.  Qualifying.  The ground rail was still in a poor position, but my handling was enough to help Zora keep the bars up.

All in all we had a great time this weekend.  Very much looking forward to our next trial in a couple of weeks!