Saturday, September 13, 2008

I've Seen Dog Heaven

It's Shangrila.

And it's just 20 minutes due north of my house: the freeway nearest my house turns into a two-lane country road as I drive further and further north through pastureland that's slowly being developed into McMansions. Just when you think you've gone too far the country road becomes a modern, multi-lane intersection. Turn right and you're on another two-lane country road with long driveways extending into nowhere. One of those driveways leads through a residential security gate, then a tree-lined road (of the gentleman farmer aesthetic) leading to a vast ranch-style mansionesque complex that includes a fully developed horse-training facility that has been turned into an agility dog training facility.

Some paddocks have become semi-enclosed play fields where you can toss a frisbee to a dog that needs a little alone time; others are mini training arenas where a dog and her handler can focus on, say, weave poles.

Stables lined with aromatic wood shavings offer jumping apparatus at different heights.

A satellite building is now the dog trainer's office, fitted out with "dog-proof" decor with southwestern flair: slate floors, iron furniture, a franklin stove, a separate conference room with a viewing system so you can review your agility moves over a glass of iced tea.

Oh. My. Stars.

I brought Buddy to this alternative universe for what I expected would be a quick meeting with the trainer. We stayed three hours (I missed an appointment downtown for this), playing with some of the dogs--yes, we had a play date with a white schnauzer (a male, dominant schnauzer BTW). And get this: the schnauzer's owner works for the very Camp Bow-Wow that rejected us a few years back and said she'd get us special permission for a re-interview for Buddy since he was such a good sport with her dog.

He was calm and dear with every human and canine there.

I brought only Buddy because it's raining all weekend and I figured the storms would rattle Petunia too much for such an adventure to be sensible.

But around 1 p.m. I decided the place was too good for P to miss. So I drove home, switched dogs, and Petunia spent nearly three hours there as well. We wandered around and met other dogs. I was more cautious with her so no play date, but we did walk by many different dogs and nearly all were significantly larger. The dogs around whom she seemed *least * calm were Belgian Tervurans--the same breed as her best friend in the old days. The dog that seemed to be most calming for her was a pit bull named Phoebe. Yes. A big black female pit bull with a scarred up face (from her pre-rescue days), named Phoebe--she is now a therapy dog and does agility.

We played ball for about an hour in the separate space, just getting exhausted and happy. She returned the ball right into my hand, almost every time. Occasionally she'd head over to the horse trough for a drink and them climb all the way inside it, like Mr. Darcy in his bath tub.

She met lots of humans who gave her lots of treats and helped her experience much goodness in an unfamiliar place surrounded by lots of high-energy dogs making eye contact and so forth (in other words, these were assertive and alert dogs--amped up from running around and most were herding breeds, which tend to be, on balance, the most consistently unnerving breeds for Miss P). But she was fine and I was okay and the trainer said she saw nothing in Petunia's behavior that would cause her to worry about having her in a class.

So we're going to return for an individual "levelling" session to see whether we can enter as beginners (instead of as foundations or pre-agility people--in other words, whether we can get on the equipment sooner rather than later). Buddy is going into the foundation class and we're trying to get into the same class as his new schnauzer pal.

That's how I spent my day. My dogs are now snoozing on their beds and I'm feeling Gratitude.

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