A Profile of Roger Ly and his dog Buster
Tell us about your dog. Where did he come from?
Buster “Paws” Ly is a male Russell-type mix (probably JRT mix). He is about seven years old and was adopted from the San Jose Animal Care Center in San Jose, California on August 1, 2012. He was found as a stray in San Jose and brought to the shelter along with another dog. They guessed that he was around three years old at the time I adopted him.
How did you end up adopting him?
Originally, I wasn’t planning on adopting a dog. My last dog passed away about four years prior. I wasn’t against getting another dog, I just didn’t have the drive or strong push to do so. However, around the time I ended up adopting him, my mom told me she was thinking of adopting a dog and wanted me to come along to meet and help assess the different dogs. Over the course of the next few weekends, we went to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley for various adoption events to meet some dogs to live with my parents. We never really found a match that would really work with my parents, but it planted a seed in my mind. Ultimately, I started to visit the HSSV and the San Jose Animal Care Center where local strays were brought after being found by animal control, or surrendered by previous owners.
On the Sunday prior to adopting Buster, I visited the SJACC close to closing. My general plan in visiting was to go close to closing so that if I did find a dog that I connected with, it would be too late to adopt right then and there, and I would be forced to at least wait a night instead of impulsively signing papers and taking him home. In walking the different kennel areas I saw one dog that was quieter than the other ones. When people came in, all the other dogs would rush towards the front and jump and bark. “Kipling” would just patiently lay there and just look at you and then put his head back down. That stood out to me and so I read his paperwork. He was found as a stray with another dog they brought in and named “Rudy” (Rudy and Kipling.. Rudyard Kipling). I didn’t take the time to meet, him, just figured I’d come back the next day they were open and look a little more into things.
Monday SJACC was closed, so I came back on Tuesday, again close to closing time, because I wasn’t planning on taking a dog home that day. I went straight to his kennel area and though his paperwork was still there, he wasn’t. I was a little bummed, but thought maybe he was just taking a walk. I noticed him in a meeting room with young woman having a meet and greet. It seemed she was interested in adopting him. I hung around a little and visited with other dogs. Eventually the woman left without the dog — she wasn’t going to adopt him yet. A volunteer took him out for a potty break and I approached and asked if I could quickly meet him. We discussed his meet and greet and the volunteer told me that the woman was interested in adopting, but she lived at home with her parents and was told that she should probably bring them in one day to meet the dog to ensure that it would be a good match for the family. The volunteer also expressed concern that they were planning to have him live outdoors in the yard all the time, and just wasn’t entirely comfortable with the match quite yet. Again, it was too late to adopt so I went home to sleep on it.
The next morning, I came back before they opened with the plan to actually have a meet and greet, and if everything went well, to sign papers and take him home. Already there was a line at the center and I kept looking around for the potential adopter from the day before. I didn’t see her there. When I was finally allowed to meet him, he seemed cautious and shy, but still eventually approached me and let me handle him. He seemed rather mellow and seemed like a good fit. I decided to adopt him then and there. Ended up signing paperwork and everything, all the while, looking over my shoulder to see if the woman from the day before was going to show up and try to snag him. That never happened, thankfully, and he has lived with me ever since.
I ended up naming him Buster, after the Giants rookie who had just started his first significant season, Buster Posey. Also, Buster had a weird hitch in his step, and for some reason, I joked that he could end up losing his leg and I equated that to Buster Bluth from Arrested Development. He wasn’t ever in any real danger of losing it, it was just a funny little thing he had when he ran (and he still has to this day).
How did you get involved in agility with your dog?
When I first got Buster, I wanted to make sure he would interact well with other dogs so we went to the dog park.. usually twice a day. This was an attempt to make sure he socialized with other dogs, in a misguided attempt to think that more dogs would be best and that would help him get along with anyone. At first it was good. He and I met a bunch of new dogs and friends at the local dog park. He would run, chase, be chased and wrestle. He had his own pack of dogs he’d see every day. After about seven months though, he started to show signs that he wasn’t really that comfortable with all the dogs there. He’d get snarky with new dogs, especially pups. He’d never bite, but would snap at exuberant puppies. It got to the point where I was basically just managing him at the park and he was stressed out being there.
At the time that things got to the point where I had to seriously consider not going to the park anymore, a new facility called Fetch Sam opened about ten minutes away from me. The owner there, Susanne Cohen was going to teach some obedience but also agility classes in her facility. I ended up signing him up for the Agility for Fun class to get him working and running around. But also to get him around dogs in a more controlled environment. After a few weeks, I was encouraged to start him on the more Agility Foundations track with the goal of possibly showing and competing in the future. He seemed to pick things up quickly, but when we had to start working on some distance skills, it was very obvious, that he was more comfortable being in my shadow all the time, rather than venture out five to ten feet away to interact with an obstacle. As the class progressed and Buster would refuse to move away from me, things got frustrating for the both of us, and we stopped going to class, hoping to practice on our own for a bit and build up some confidence. Eventually, we stopped doing anything agility-related for a while because it didn’t seem like he was having fun at all.
In October of 2014, we attended a 5K fun-run with other people and dogs that benefited the local Humane Society. At the event, there was an agility demo ring set up. The person running the ring, Cecilia Sterzon, asked the crowd if anyone had a dog with some exposure to agility that wanted to come into the ring and try it out a little. I was convinced by my friend to see if Buster wanted to try. I was hesitant because it had been so long since we had looked at anything agility-related. Also, I was scared to take him off leash in an area with SO many dogs, especially since I had just spent the last couple of hours managing him around the other dogs since he still was fairly leash reactive. But I decided to try it. I brought him into the ring with him looking at all the dogs around him. But once we got in there and I removed his leash, his demeanor changed. He was ready to go. We ended up doing a few jumps and some running and he was excited. We signed up for classes the following week (back at Fetch Sam, and actually taking classes with the person giving the demo) and have been doing it ever since.
Did you find that agility helped to improve any behaviors your dog had before you started? How did you feel it helped your relationship?
I think agility, the classes and trials, have helped Buster be more comfortable around other dogs. I think he is constantly wary that dogs are going to invade his space, attack him or overwhelm him. Having him around working dogs has been great because, in general, dogs that are working are not focused and staring at OTHER dogs, but at their handler and their job. When Buster doesn’t see dogs staring at him, he seems more at ease. He is still wary, but his body language is remarkably different than when he encounters dogs on his walks in the neighborhood. He can get along with other dogs, but it often takes him a few encounters, and he is even comfortable being alongside other puppies that he’s met at trials. It does take many uneventful meetings, but we just got back from a trial where we stayed two nights in a single room with three people and eight dogs (two of which were puppies) and they were all off leash for periods of time.
I think it has also strengthened our bond. Buster has always been very attached to me. Off leash work was easy with him because he would never venture more than 10-15 feet away from me without checking in to make sure I was still there. He had terrible separation anxiety when he first came to live with me and he couldn’t be left in a crate for more than a minute before he would cry or try to escape. It would get to the point where I was afraid he’d hurt himself if left there for too long (even if I was within eyesight). Training, working and trialling has got him comfortable in the crate and being away from me. He considers his crate a safe place now. He can ride crated in a car for hours without a peep. He can sleep overnight crated if necessary without issue. And he feels less worried that I am going to ditch him. 🙂
Finally, I’ve had a chance to understand him better. Figure out what his triggers are. What he likes (food). What he doesn’t like (toys). What drives him. How soft he can be. And there was a period of time where I have no idea what happened in his life and so working with him has been difficult because of that. I had to discover things about him and try to work with what I had that I had no control over.
What’s something about your dog’s personality that you find unique/endearing/special?
He is very attached to me. It *can* be endearing. It can also be annoying 🙂 It makes gambles and distance stuff VERY difficult. But he does try to figure things out. He is also a soft dog, and any mistakes made (by himself or myself) have a tendency to have him shut down sometimes. Plus, he is a terrier and well.. I’m sure you know how terriers can be.
What USDAA events have you competed in with your dog?
We’ve competed in many local USDAA trials since April of 2015. We did play at the Western Regional in September 2015, but in Starters titling classes. We attended our first Regional, playing in Tournament classes, earlier this year in Moorpark, CA. And finally another Western Regional this past September playing in ALL of the tournaments. He finished as the top 12″ individual dog in team and made his first podium as a third place finished in the Regional Grand Prix, earning a bye into the semifinals at Cynosport this year. We will be attending both of our first Cynosport in November.
Buster is a Masters Standard Q away from earning his MAD (he has three standard Qs that he earned this past weekend, however all under the same judge). He has his Jumpers Champion title as well.
I have another dog, Rocky (another rescue) who is early in his agility training career. I hope to debut him in a Jumpers class early next year.
What would you say to people who are considering adopting a dog who might want to do agility some day?
I’m happy my first agility dog was a rescue dog. Mostly because I have no idea about Buster’s history, it has actually made training him VERY challenging. I had to discover what drives him and what slows him down. I had to build drive in him (I still have to build drive in him). He’s made me a better trainer, I believe, because of the difficulties we faced. I wouldn’t pick a rescue with the sole goal of agility though. You never know what you are going to get and you don’t know if your dog will take to agility. If he does, that’s an absolute bonus. Either way, you have a member of a family that has a better life than he did in a shelter or possibly euthanized. Just be prepared to work a LOT to get them where you want them. It is TOTALLY worth it though.
Roger reports Buster had a very successful time. He got a bronze in 12″ Biathlon and came in fourth place for the 12″ Grand Prix overall. He also recently earned his MAD and Snooker Champion titles.
Photo Credits: #1, 2 and 4 by Ian Coggins; #3 by Gregory Gordon