Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter 2012

Happy Easter everybody!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Got a Shrinking Feeling...

Ever get that funny feeling that something just isn't right?  I just SWEAR that Trevor was smaller than both Carmen & myself when he got here.

Are we shrinking or something????

Monday, January 16, 2012

CIrcle of Life

My first post of 2012 is a happy one - it's an introduction!

As you know, we had to say goodbye to Mason (our 13.5-year-old Chocolate Labrador) just before Thanksgiving.  We knew he was in twilight of his life, but that didn't make his loss any easier.  Although we had planned to remain a "2-dog household", our family just wasn't the same without a "big dog".

Paul quickly realized that the only way to help heal the hole in his heart left by Mason was to get another Lab.  Thanks to my connections in the competitive dog world, our search for a puppy was short and simple.  In a series of almost eerie coincidences, we found ourselves driving to visit a breeder within a day of making the first inquiry. We really didn't plan to be bringing home a puppy until at least after the holidays, but fate apparently had other ideas.

There was an 8-week old litter of labs, two yellow males still waiting to meet their new pawrents.  We ended up going to see them the same night we called, and within 36 hours of beginning our search came home with our little yellow man.  Meet Trevor (officially known as Rockhaven's Twist of Fate):

To say the Frenchies were a little surprised with the new addition is an understatement.  What was this funny-looking, yellow-furred thing with a pointy nose & long tail that was invading their home?  Still, introductions went well, and by the time we went to bed that night Trevor already felt like part of the pack.

What?  He's STAYING????

As things tend to go around here, there hasn't been a dull moment since.  Trevor had to hit the ground running, and luckily he was up to the challenge.  As soon as he kind of got the hang of things at home, we hit the road in Big Earl (our motorcoach) to travel to Florida for a national agility championship that Brutus had qualified for.  Trevor was a great little traveler, and already has a couple thousand miles under his belt - most of it traversed while he slept!

Sisters make great pillows.

All three of them fit on my lap - for now.

We arrived back home just in time for all the holiday hubbub to be in full swing.  A 10-week old puppy and christmas decorations?  Ugh.

But all things considered we made it through Christmas with no major tragedies, Trevor taking it all in stride.

Our best attempt at posing in front of the (as of yet undecorated) tree.
Too bad that their eyes are glowing brighter than the lights!
He was a hit with our holiday guests both big & small, including some out-of-town company who came to visit with their two dogs (a lab and a Frenchie).

Trevor and Ollie, his "brother from another mother"...

...Who was oohhhhh so patient with Trevor!

Trevor watching the girls (Carmen & Gracie) play.

Now 15 weeks old, Trevor has already outgrown his first crate (although he's in denial of that and still likes to crawl into the Frenchies' crates) and weighs 30 pounds.

Instead of the roomy crate next door, Trevor would rather cram
himself in Carmen's crate for a nap.

One look at those polar bear-sized paws will tell you how big of a dog Trevor will inevitably be.  I think he'll eat us out of house & home in no time if he keeps up the current growth rate.

I swear I used to fit in this toy box.  It must have shrunk...

Trevor appears to be the most astoundingly "normal" dog we've owned.  He is already about 85% housebroken already (by comparison, it took Carmen until almost 6 months, Brutus until over a year to get to that point!).  Trev loves to go outside - weather conditions (rain, snow, cold) do nothing to dilute his enthusiasm.

What do you mean it's freezing out here?

Can't catch me!  Let's play!

Our vet gave him two thumbs way up for both confirmation at temperament.  Already he's the star of his puppy class, walking nicely on a leash and learning basic obedience commands like the working dog he was bred to be.  Last week Trevor went to work with Paul for the first time, and got a A+ for his first day on the job as a shop dog.  I tell you, nothing fazes the yellow man.

The more, the merrier.
Everybody in "Fort Trevor", the ginormous crate in the bedroom.
Pack dynamics have turned out to be pretty much what we expected.  Brutus accepts Trevor - mostly since now there is someone else for Carmen to pick, on but also because there is someone else to take the blame when something has been chewed/peed-on/torn-up/slobbered-on/eaten.

I'll sit next to Trevor, but only because I know there's a cookie in it for me.

Carmen, on the other hand, LOVES Trevor - she is part mother, part rough-and-tumble playmate.  Although he already seriously outweighs Carmen (who weighs a little over 20 lbs), she is no doubt the alpha dog around here and has no trouble putting Trevor in line.

Sorry it's blurry -play between Carmen & Trevor is fast-paced to say the least!

Carmen can effortlessly tackle and pin Trevor, and spends most of her waking hours wrestling, playing with and chasing her "little big brother" (while Brutus sits on the sofa and rolls his eyes).   They are snuggle buddies too - a nap is always better with company, after all!

We have had a really mild winter so far, and the three dogs love to go for pack walks together.  I look like the crazy dog lady for sure, two Frenchies in one hand and a small yellow moose in the other.  Funny thing is that Trevor is the easiest to manage of them all!

Trevor is primarily Paul's dog, so no plans for him to follow in the Frenchies' footsteps in the agility ring - in fact one of his main jobs is to keep Paul company when I'm away with Team Frenchie.   That's all good with Trevor, he loves being a "daddy's boy"!

I'm planning on doing some obedience with Trevor, and hope to get at least a few basic titles in that type competition as he seems well-suited to it.  Beyond that Paul hopes to find some fun things to do together to keep Trevor busy, like dock-diving or some field training.  I think no matter what we ask of him, Trevor will always be happy to oblige (especially if you have something to feed him!).

Trevor has already figured out that the camera is a good thing because everyone gets cookies!

So we've come full circle.  Lost the founding member of our pack, but seem to have found an even more unflappable dog to fill Mason's shoes - although I think her already out grew them.  I will probably revamp the blog (again), as Trevor will most certainly find himself being posting material as often as anyone else.  I'm starting another blog (, so that I can keep our Team Frenchie/competition stuff from clogging up this page.  So stay tuned, with a puppy around, there's bound to be no shortage of posts.  And no shortage of naps either!

If he outgrows this bed, we're in trouble!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

There's an empty bed

Coming to you with a somber post today.  There is an empty bed in front of the fireplace, as we have lost one of our pack members.

This morning we had to say goodbye to our 13 1/2 year old lab, Mason.  Can't say that it comes as a complete shock, as he was really quite the senior citizen and old for a big dog.  Sure, he had some lumps & bumps, but was impressively healthy and active for his age.  Mason had some advanced arthritis that we thought had just suddenly worsened; in fact it was an osteosarcoma in his shoulder.  With no real way to make him comfortable or mitigate his pain, we made the hardest choice - to let Mason go with his dignity in tact.  I believe he was very much at peace with the fact that his time with us was ending, that he had lived a full, happy, and satisfying life.

Christmas 2010

I've become accustomed to existing amongst exceptional dogs lately.  I've had the pleasure of meeting Grand Champions, whose genes will be passed on for many generations to make their breed better.  Lucky enough to share space with performance dogs, whose talents and abilities are truly breath-taking.  But in a world where letters before and after a dog's name mean so much, there is a something that cannot be bred for or trained: being man's best friend.  And THAT is where Mason was truly exceptional.

Mason asleep with his dad and his "baby".

Mason was the ultimate "good dog".  Not a mean bone in his body, and loyal in every sense of the word.  He asked for very little (well, except maybe that sandwich you were about to take a bite of), and gave everything of himself.  He was patient.  You could leave him alone all day with no worries, and he was as happy as ever to see you no matter what mood you came home in.  An uncomplicated dog, Mason asked for nothing other than a pat on the head & and a cookie.

A hamburger was the ultimate treat for Mason, this one was to celebrate his 13th birthday.

So many fond memories have swirled though my head today, making me smile despite all the emotions.  Like the moment I met Mason, who came bounding to greet me at my future-husband's front door on our second date.  

About a year old in this photo, Mason was happy to share his dad with me.

Thinking of how gracefully he accepted an endless string of changes - from numerous relocations, to accepting new pack members, and even traveling around the country with us in our motorhome.   

Summer 2010, South Dakota at Crazy Horse memorial.

His "starvation song (& dance)" when he felt like it was time to eat.  The way he could imperceptibly creep closer to you while you ate - never seemed to move but somehow inched right up to your side.  The times I freaked out because I though he had run away, when he instead had somehow gotten closed into the basement or closet - and was just too polite & patient to speak up.  The fact that he pooped on command (however did we teach him that???) will never cease to amaze me!

You have to agree, he was just an all-around great dog, labradork and all.  Or as Paul rightfully calls him, "the best dog ever".  Through it all there was never a day - or maybe even a moment - in all his years where Mason wasn't a happy dog.

Mason always was a cheeseball, just a big goofy guy.  Here in the prime of his life, about 5 years old.

What other dog could possibly put up the with Frenchies as mercifully?  I smile to think how he'd tolerate them climbing all over him, even (sometimes reluctanlty) engaging in the rough-housing sometimes.

Haven't gotten quite used to not having Mason here yet - still feel his presence very strongly, like he's peeking around the corner at us.  Like he's that ray of sunshine that so strikingly shone on his bed this evening (see first picture in this post), almost exactly in the shape & position that Mason would have occupied if he were there.  Guess maybe that's because he's here in our hearts, not truly gone.  Goodness knows it will be years before I stop finding "tumblefurs" of his neverending brown & white hair.  But I will surely smile each time I stumble upon a little piece of Mason - who really was the best dog ever.  

April 2, 1998 - November 23, 2011

Love you, big brown buddy - we miss you.  Run free up there, you will never be forgotten.  I'll leave you with one last photo, one that I have to think could have rightfully been taken right this moment on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.  I think he's just looking back to make sure we're all OK :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Agility 101

Many of you, both here on the blog or on Facebook, have asked questions about how we got started in agility.  So wonderful to hear that we've inspired some of you to do more with your pups - agility is great exercise for the human and dog alike, both physically & mentally.   Plus nothing builds the bond between you more than learning new things together!

In this post I'll touch on how we got started in agility, then offer some suggestions for those of you who might want to do the same.  Along the way I'm sharing some of our oldest agility photos, lots of them bloopers.  It doesn't always go as you plan out there, you know!

Our very first agility photo!!

As far as how we got started, I'll try to be brief (I can always try anyways, LOL).  It all began by literally making Brutus jump through hoops!   Saw a hula hoop in the basement, and found myself wondering if I could teach Brutus to jump through it.  In a matter of minutes I had him bouncing back & forth through it at various heights & he loved it!  A light went on in my head, realizing I'd just found a great way to put that endless energy of his to work.   I'd seen dog agility televised on Animal Planet numerous times, and figured "why not?". 

At one of our first competitions - Brutus and I having a discussion about the jump.

Luckily I live in an area where there are many agility clubs nearby.  I picked the least intimidating-looking one - after all Brutus wasn't exactly the typical student, and we never intended to compete.  A few email exchanges later & we were signed up for Beginner Agility.  Walking into an agility club with a Frenchie on the other end of your leash can cause quite the collection of raised eyebrows.  In fact we were told during our first lesson to expect that it would take us many sessions (instead of the usual one) to move to an intermediate level because of Brutus' build & personality.  That was May of 2009.  Little did they know....
Just look at that concentration (tipping the teeter)

Within a few weeks Brutus had passed his other classmates & was jumping, climbing and tunneling around the field.  Apparently he never got the memo that Frenchies are "non-sporting".  I loved learning new things with Brutus, seeing him catch on and enjoy the activity so much.  It WAS a great way to drain his energy - at least until it got him is such amazing shape that his energy actually increased!  That funny little body turned into a lean, well-muscled, well-coordinated agility machine before I even realized what had happened.

Umm....  No, mom.  YOU jump through the tire.

By December 2009 we entered our first competition.  A little premature, perhaps - I spent as much time chasing Brutus around on the course as I did actually doing agility.  But boy, did we have FUN!  And I loved how the head-scratching and scoffs of disbelief turned into smiles and applause as they saw what Brutus could do out there (well, at least when he wasn't doing the zoomies...).   I came up with a motto then that is still true today:  We might not always be good, but at least we're entertaining!!

Brutus thought the A-Frame was just there for a place to get a good view.

Fast-forward through lots of trials and training, switching clubs and starting a new dog (Carmen).  Often we've learned what NOT to do, but thankfully have had second chances to get it right.  I trained Carmen very differently based on my experience with Brutus - which is why she's caught up to him so quickly.  Actual agility is just a small part of what I do with both dogs - they get lots of extra veterninary attention (both traditional and homeopathic) and supplements.  We do various things for conditioning, from physio-ball work to hikes in hilly terrain.  The variety is good for our bodies as well as our minds!

The beginnings of Team Frenchie!!

Now - as for those of you who'd like to try your hand (er, paw) at agility.  I'm no expert, having only been at this a few years myself.  Please, Please, PLEASE consult your own resources as well.  That being said, I have some unusual insight because of the unusual dogs I run with!

Bottoms up!  Carmen showing she could still use a little work on her jumping form!

Before starting any new activity, it is of paramount importance that your dog get a thorough veterinary screening (um, you might want to schedule an appointment with your own physician too!).  Agility is one of the most demanding things you can ask of a dog; any underlying physical issues could interfere with training or hurt your dog, so best to get that all sorted out before hand.  Just one little asterisk here - agility can be a dangerous activity, dogs can get injured as well as their handlers.  Proper training and conditioning for you both is essential to minimize that risk as much as possible!

Agility is serious exercise for both members of the team!

Next, be sure you have some good background in basic obedience.  Agility might be much more exciting than sit/stay/come/heel, but without those foundation skills you aren't going to get far!  Dogs should also be well-socialized if possible, unless you intend to only ever take private lessons.  Agility can be great for the shy dog, as the training & activity can really increase their confidence!

That's Brutus in obedience class - group sit/stay with all the big dogs!

I would suggest attending an agility trial if you can find one.  Depending on where you live in the country, different ogranizations may be more popular.  Below is a list of the most prominent organizations, along with a link to their event pages.  You can find calendars on the site & most will let you search by state to find trails that might be within driving distance for you.

There are endless theories on training, many handling styles, and the different venues have different rules/obstacles.  Find teams that have dogs with a similar attitude to yours, and who you enjoy watching.  See if you can approach them outside the ring (BTW, make sure to wait until after they run - we competitors get pretty darn intense).  Most of us are happy to talk dogs with anyone!  Many people travel extensively to attend trials, but hopefully you can find someone who trains nearby.  Usually a local club is the organizer for a trial, so search out the show secretary to find out more about the club.

Is it safe to come out??

I really hope this post answers many of your questions.  Feel free to email me (hrncharddsATyahooDOTcom) if you have specific questions.  Of post them in the comments and I'll do a follow-up post soon to address them.  Doing this post makes me reflect on how far we've come - the photos here are our earliest agility moments captured on film!  Whether you just dabble in agility or get addicted like we have, it's a great pastime and I'll never get tired of talking about it!

Team Frenchie at a recent trial.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Come On

We'll be hitting the road this weekend for yet another agility trial - this time in Edinboro, PA.  Several of you asked questions about agility & how we got started.  We here at Team Frenchie are SO happy to think that our posts have inspired some of you to try their hands (um, paws) at agility!  We'll try to answer your questions in a post very soon.  

But for now, speaking of dog competitions....

You may have already seen this video - but if so you'll know it is worth yet another watch!  Recently, Will Young (a British pop star, discovered by one of the earliest versions of what eventually became American Idol), released his 6th album "Echoes".  One of the tracks, "Come On" was also released as a video with a most interesting setting - dog competition.  It's kind of an odd take on the dog world; no combined event like this exists (he combines the breed ring with agility & musical freestyle), and no one runs agility in a skirt, pantyhose & heels LOL.  Picky details aside - it's a very tender, moving story about the journey of a man and his dog.

It's actually Will Young doing some of the performance stuff in the video, but the camera angles make me think they probably used a body double for the more technical parts.  Still, how cool that Will himself did some of the handling!!  What a heartwarming tale he tells though, and I really like the song as well as it's message.  It's worth a few minutes for a look/listen - you might even need a Kleenex :)  

Did you notice that all the handlers kind of looked like their dogs (either their hair or their clothes)?  Funny, that actually happens accidentally more often than you'd think - people start to look like their dogs.  Hope I don't end up bearing much resemblance to my Frenchies, even as cute as they are!!

Have a great weekend everyone - we'll be back next week with a report on our latest agility adventures!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Team Frenchie

I mentioned that agility has become quite the addition for me.  It's not just about getting exercise for me & my dogs anymore, it really is a passion for me, and I truly believe that the Frenchies enjoy it as well!  You can't look at this photo and NOT see that Brutus & I share something special:

Last minute instructions before we run

Although I am a competitive person by nature and enjoy all the goal-setting and title-getting aspects of the sport, that's not the only reason we spend so much time doing agility.  All the training time has fostered an incredible bond between me & Brutus (and more & more so with Carmen as she matures) - I think that is pretty evident to anyone who knows me.  I love my unusual little partners - who I affectionately refer to as Team Frenchie - and the strange little niche we've carved out for ourselves in the local (and recently even the national) agility scene!  

Picture-perfect form through the tire!

If I had a dollar for every time someone passed by us at a trial and said "Hey Brutus!  How you doin' today, buddy?" and not even acknowledged I was on the other end of the leash... think we'd have enough to pay for all our trial entries & then some!!  On the rare occasion that we're at a trial & I don't have Brutus (or Carmen) at my side, I swear people don't have the slightest idea who I am half the time!  Oddly enough it only makes me smile :)  I've said it before and I'll say it again - I've never been so popular in my whole life as when there is a Frenchie on the other end of the leash (or on the course with me)!!

We've had lots of wonderful support and encouragement over the two years we've been competing.  Family (who I couldn't do it without), friends (both old & new), trainers, agility co-competitors, judges, and even people we've never actually met - like all of you out there in blogland!  It so warms my heart to hear the burst of applause after a successful run with Brutus or Carmen.  We've run into a few naysayers - that feel Frenchies shouldn't be doing agility, or that you shouldn't bother to train anything other than the "ideal" agility dog - but thankfully they are few & far between.  In the end, all that matters is that we are doing it for the right reasons - meaning both the dogs and I find what we do rewarding!

Carmen mid-course, on the pause table. "Can we just hurry up & go, mom?"
 (that's judge Lavonda Herring in the background)

So here are some new videos, see for yourself :)  They are from just a few weekends ago, both the Standard and Jumpers runs from a trial at one of our favorite venues.  You can really get a sense of how differently the two dogs run, as they are both running exactly the same courses in the videos.

First, here are Brutus' efforts.  He might not be fast, but he sure is consistent. Because of the way I can handle him from in front (I call it front-wheel drive), we can usually negotiate the trickiest, trappy-est courses without a problem.  This day he double Q's, earning us a bunch of points towards our MACH (Masters' Agility Champion, the ultimate AKC agility title).

Now compare that with Carmen.  She is about an inch shorter than Brutus, but looks WAY smaller.  Those little legs move so fast, and she jumps like she has springs in her legs!  You could find flashier dogs out there running for sure - but I dare you to find one that runs with more joy or more heart!

I know not everyone who reads the blog is that interested in agility, but it's become so much a part of who we are that not sharing it would be giving an incomplete picture of what goes on around here.  Hope you enjoyed a little glimpse of what we are doing out there these days!!  

Here's our "parting shot" for the post:

That's all, folks!!