Thursday, February 25, 2010

Arnie's story

I have volunteered with Pug PROS (Pug Rescue of Sacramento) for over 10 years. I help with fundraisers, have served on the board, edited the newsletter, and serve as a foster and/or hospice home. Through the years I’ve had many pugs come through my home. Some stay for hours, some stay for years. Some leave for loving homes. Some stay forever, both my choice or because of circumstance.

Arnie came to me after I received a phone call from our county animal control. The kennel administrator asked if PROS would take the pug that had just arrived as a stray, and had not been claimed. Ordinarily, they would allow the general public to adopt him, but she felt that he was unadoptable, and would just be returned over and over. I am very thankful that she did the right thing and contacted us, knowing that we would work with him and find him a great home, with the least amount of stress to him.

He was, quite frankly, out of control. And I don’t throw that term out lightly. You see, my first PROS adoption was Puck, my nutty pug mix that at twelve years old, is still climbing trees, chasing squirrels and tearing around like a youngster. So I know energetic. Arnie was frantic. He was spending his days in the kennel at animal control running along the block wall; running and running and running.

I picked him up, with every intention of rehabilitating him to find a great home. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he might make a good agility dog. My current competition pug, Levi, was slowing down, and I was missing a pug to run. So I decided to adopt him, and see what we could do.

My vet thought I was crazy to adopt him (she neutered him, and had to sedate him with drugs she never gives pugs, in order to get him to calm down just a little), and told me to rethink my decision. My friends couldn’t see his appeal, and doubted he would ever see competition. The other dogs were irritated by him. But I saw his potential.

His first year was spent just teaching him manners and control. He spent many hours chewing on a nylabone, to keep him out of too much trouble. He was NEVER off of a leash, and rarely in a situation where he might escape. I spent hours, weeks and months just teaching him that he should respond to his name, come when I call him, and to stick around close to me. I took him to all different places, teaching him to not lunge at dogs, not chase anything that moved, and to stay calm in every environment. He learned to not pull on his leash, to sit for a few seconds, to lay down, and to ride quietly in a crate. Crate training was a struggle. My license plate says SCRMNK9 – and he is the ultimate screaming canine – he screamed whenever he was confined. Slowly, over time, he learned to control himself. Now it was time to prep for his agility career.

I am lucky enough to have all of the agility equipment in my yard, and the experience to teach my dog to perform the obstacles. I’ve competed in agility since 1993, and have trained a lot of dogs. Once he was comfortable on the agility equipment, I enrolled him in a class with the sole purpose of teaching him to pay attention while he ran. It was a very remedial class, but very chaotic. It was perfect for Arnie, since all he had to learn was to focus. It took a year, but eventually he started working sequences instead of running off to dig through everyone’s training bags.

I decided to test the waters, and entered him in a trial. His first run was horrible. He took off running, ran around in huge circles, then went and pooped in the corner of the ring. It was horribly embarrassing, but gave me feedback on what we needed to work on. Off we went, back to class, and worked some more.

A year later, I decided to enter him in our national specialty, in Ontario, California. He wasn’t ready, and as show chairperson I knew I was going to be pretty distracted, but I wanted to support the trial and have fun. Well, Arnie had fun for sure. I was just thankful that the ring had a fence around it. Arnie ran around, did an obstacle, ran around some more, did an obstacle; you get the picture. But he behaved himself on the trip, and relaxed quietly in the hotel room, and in his crate at our vendor booth.

It was back to the drawing board, working on attention for the next few months. I decided to enter some more AKC trials, even though I wasn’t sure he would be any more ready than he was in Ontario. I had only entered one day on the first weekend, and I spent all day working on keeping that connection with him. He’s a very nosy pug, so I walked him around to see EVERYTHING around the rings. I would encourage him to check things out, and then give him a cookie when he looked back at me. After hours of waiting and working, we stepped onto the line. He was focused, fast (leaving me in the dust) and connected to me. There were a few minor glitches, but we crossed the line with our first qualifying score! As I walked around afterward, friends kept commenting about how fast he was, and how much fun he was having. We were on our way.

But I know that every day is a new day in agility, so I didn’t let my guard down the next weekend. I was showing both days, and wasn’t sure how he would do. Again, we worked on attention, and checked EVERYTHING out around the rings, even though it was in the same location as the weekend before. And again, when we crossed the finish line, we had another qualifying score, this time a perfect 100 and a first place ribbon. Two down, one to go. The next day, more attention, then up to the start line. And again, we qualified, had another perfect score, and another blue ribbon. Arnie’s first agility title, in 3 straight tries, with 2 perfect scores, and 2 blue ribbons. Most importantly, he had fun, ran fast, and waited by his leash at the exit with his little curl tail wagging madly.

That was a year ago, and he's gone on to get 2 more titles, and is working in the top level of AKC agility.

I’m not crazy enough to think that I’m out of the woods yet. There will be lots of inattention, running out of the ring, visiting people and dogs while he should be working. But he’s shown me that he has what it takes to run in agility. He started out as a homeless stray, that nobody claimed. He’s had to learn to behave himself, and has gotten into an awful lot of trouble. But he’s turned into a sweet, funny, willing, fast and fun agility partner. Where most people saw a dog that was hopeless, I saw a diamond in the rough. I knew I had what it took to polish it into a brilliant companion.

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