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Going Around the Horn

I was working with Clover recently on parts of the retrieve, specifically the hold and pick up. I wanted her to hold the dumbbell for at least 5 seconds and separately I wanted her to pick up the dumbbell when cued, turn quickly and move toward me.

We started out a bit rough. We hadn’t practiced for a while and initially Clover would take the dumbbell in her mouth and immediately drop it. Then we worked for a bit and she quickly improved, holding it for several seconds at a time and seemed to be doing well. And then, ugh. She was barely taking it and dropping it. We were back to where we started, maybe worse.

This is what Hannah Branigan calls the “downslope of your training session curve” in her blog post on the topic. (

And often when I get to this point I feel like I have to go around the horn.

Toy Story 2 – around the horn
[Rex is Channel-surfing at a Slow Pace to find the Al’s Toy Barn commercial]
Rex: I can’t find it. It doesn’t seem to be on any of these stations.
Hamm: Oh you’re going too slow, let me do the job.
[Hamm starts Channel-surfing at a Breathtaking Speed]
Rex: It’s too fast. How can you even tell what’s on?
Hamm: I can tell.
[Hamm just skips right past the Al’s Toy Barn commercial]
Rex: Go back, go back, you missed it!
Hamm: Too late, I’m in the 40’s, gotta go around the horn!

We are doing well and then we aren’t, so I keep training until we are doing well again. Sometimes this takes a while and we both get frustrated somewhere in the middle.

But what if I just stopped? What if when we stopped doing well I took a break and we worked on something else and then came back to the task or saved it for another day? Why do I feel like I’m committed and must “go around the horn”?

One of the nice things about positive training is that you are essentially always ending on a good note. My dog should be having a good time and feeling like her time and effort are being rewarded. If we switch to doing something else because we are in the downslope we should be ok to pick up where we left off next time.

So, ideally I quit while I’m ahead and stop when Clover is retrieving and picking up the dumbbell beautifully. The hard part is walking away and moving on when I’ve misjudged and trained too long; I haven’t stopped in time and Clover’s suddenly not doing so well and we’re in the downslope.

My goal for our next training session is to be mindful of the downslope. I’m going to try to quit while things are going well, but if I reach the downslope I’m going to put on the brakes instead of continuing down the hill. At least, that’s my plan….

Clover with dumbbell

Letting Go and Holding On

I almost missed it. There’s a seminar next weekend with a trainer I really admire and she rarely does seminars on the east coast. I came very close to signing up this morning. I was actually looking at the registration information when my phone rang.

It was my friend calling to tell me she needed to cancel our dogs’ play date for the afternoon. Her 12 1/2 year old dog was mysteriously lame. He’d gone to the vet yesterday for a Rimadyl refill; it seemed his arthritis was acting up. This morning he had gone out to use the bathroom and walked around a bit in the grass. Suddenly, he was horribly lame, unable to put any pressure on his rear leg and seemed unable to move the bottom half of it.

My friend rushed her dog to the emergency vet clinic by her house and texted a short time later. X-rays confirmed the vet’s suspicions. The leg was severely fractured and an aggressive bone cancer was spreading. My friend would have to let her sweet dog go within a few hours.

I was stunned. Her dog was getting old but he still seemed in good shape; he’d just enjoyed a trip to the beach and I saw him just the other day in pictures with her other dogs. He was one of the first dogs I introduced Gambit to as a puppy and one of Clover’s first dog friends. He was a sweet, gentle soul and he will be greatly missed.

Gambit and Louie

Prim, Louie and Clover

My friends’ day and mine ended very differently then I thought it would when I woke up this morning. I thought I was getting ready to go hang out and let our dogs play. I had no idea she would have to say good bye to her wonderful boy a few hours later.

It seems that even when we lose our dogs they leave us with a precious gift, their constant reminder to be as present as possible and to enjoy the moments together.

So, I’m not going to the seminar next weekend. It’s Kira’s birthday weekend. We’ve been through a lot this past year. It was a close call, but I’m not missing Kira’s birthday for anything.

My heart aches for my friend and I will miss her boy. Thank you for the reminder to hold on to these moments.

*You can read more about Kira’s story here:
We have a sit!, Enjoying the Sunshine, Life Lessons From Kira, Kira is getting old, and it is mostly wonderful