Today I went back to the canal trail I visited with Luna last week with the “Young Guns”, Stark and Ella. It is definitely a new favorite, and it feels good to have a favorite place again. The day was warmer, but the trail was just as quiet as the last trip. For part of the stretch, I even let the dogs have a bit of off-leash time. It was a narrow, secluded area, one where I could easily see if others were joining us on the trail.
Whenever Stark is off-leash I marvel a little bit. He can be hard to “get rid of”, not underfoot, but never going far. On the rare occasions he gets an uncomfortable distance a quick call of his name calls him to bolt back towards me. Today he created his own game where he would run out a few yards full speed, turn on a dime and charge back to us, continually re-orienting. It’s a beautiful thing for someone that never felt comfortable letting her dogs run, no matter how secluded.
When I was eleven our family dog was hit by a car and killed, in the mountains of all places. It left a lasting impact on me of the importance of always having control of your dog. No matter how safe you thought it was. I never expected to feel safe again, to trust myself and my dogs. Today we played, and I knew I didn’t have to worry.
While Stark played his own game of environmental orientation Ella and I played an actual game of orientation, keeping her close and focused on me. We’ve been working hard on developing a natural proximity with her, similar to Stark’s. For him a leash is an accessory, a social requirement. She can still get a little excited, recalls on a dime, but wants to pull when she gets excited.
So we played somewhere we had never played before, met with several impressive distractions, including splashing ducks that startled Stark (for half a second) and a cat. Both looked at the animals and back at me as we moved on. My dogs are starting to find novelty (intimate or not) optimistic, non-events and it is amazing. They’ve become flexible in new situations and find it easy to go with the flow. Again, all thanks to the games.
There was once a time when I never took my dogs anywhere unless they could all go. After all, it just didn’t seem fair to take one or two while the others were at home. As a result we reached a point where no one seemed to go anywhere. We might go for short walks around the neighborhood but even those trips seemed to be limited. With three dogs I felt more comfortable with at least two handlers - and four? No way was I tackling all of them on my own. Not to mention Stark was his own special handful when he first came to live with us, there were little manners, let alone loose leash walking with that dog. So we went out less and less, I poured more time into trick training and things we could do at home. No one seemed to suffer for it, but still, I longed for the days when a dog could accompany me quietly on a walk.
Then one night I was listening to one (of many) Absolute Dogs videos and Lauren Langman said, “Fair does not always mean equal”. That phrase stuck with me, like a mantra. What was fair for one dog may not be fair for another. And it certainly wasn’t fair for one to go without a privilege simply because another was not ready for it. How had I not seen this before? With children it had been obvious, so why hadn’t it transferred to the dogs?
We woke up early this morning to a sprinkling of snow, hopefully, the last of the season! I had a lazy start, caught up on some Absolute Dogs training videos and we ate breakfast late. One of the things I love about ditching the routine is the dogs relaxed with me. There was no nagging or begging for a meal, no whining or barking for attention. Even on the days I work I try to make “breakfast” unpredictable. The amount of food varies, as does how they earn it, and when they eat. One day it might be a frozen Kong as soon as I wake up, the next we might play games instead. Today we broke the mold by having a little bit of plain kibble in a bowl with their probiotic.
After breakfast I did some chores before breaking out the Dremel for nail trims. This is something I normally do in the late afternoons or evenings but I wanted to get it done early. Nails may be one of the most underrated things we can do for our dogs. When they are overgrown they can cause pain just walking. Most dogs are never conditioned to having them trimmed or filed which means it can be a fearful experience when they are done. My dogs have been conditioned to the Dremel (much easier than the nail clippers I used to use!) and we practice calmness while they are each taking their own turn. It also helps that we have yummy treats that only come out during nails. If you are interested in conditioning your own dogs I recommend joining the Nail Maintenance group on Facebook. And if you are not, consider it, you’ll save a lot of money during the life of your dog and they will be happier for it.
nce every five years my “regular” job gives us four weeks paid time off for a sabbatical. We have one year to take that time and I put far too much thought at the end of last summer into when to use it. Fall or spring, narrowing down to the exact month, only to find all that careful planning brought me to today. April 1st, 2020. Not the best time to have chosen with the Coronavirus raging in the United States and the rest of the world. I could tell you about the dog shows I had planned, the trip with my mom, or the hike in southern Utah on my Luna bucket list. But I’m not, because they won’t be happening, at least not right now. It would be easier to dwell on what cannot be, but I’m determined to focus on the opportunity I have been given.
Last week I wrote about Ditching the Routine, but I’m on a personal journey to find a delicate balance. I want to build a routine for myself that fosters more productivity, focus, and self-care, all while breaking routine for my dogs. It sounds counterproductive, but I know that structure can also leave room for flexibility. You see, I do better when I plan, and I do better when I write, which is why I’ve decided to share this journey with you. Every day, for the next 30 days I’m committing to writing in this blog, no matter how long or short the entries. There will be dog training (of course) but I hope that I will have more to share. Maybe inspire others to ask what they can do to make the most of this time, rather than focusing on what we have lost. Because one day the world will open back up to us again and we will long for it to slow once more.
If you’re ready to start Ditching the Routine then its best to start with ditching something else - the bowl. Every morning we start the day with a pot of value, our dog’s daily food allowance. We can decide how to use that value, but too often we chose to put it in the bowl. Our dogs love their bowls, but we want them to find the value in our relationship. Instead of pouring their food away it becomes an almost endless currency (unless you have a tiny dog!) you can use to boost your relationship. Their food can be used for training, enrichment, or rewarding good choices.
When you call your dog’s name do they come bounding towards you, meander back to your side (with or without some stops along the way), or seem to not hear you at all? Recall, or the ability for your dog to come when called is often regarded as one of the most important behaviors we train our dogs. It can be disaster avoiding when two unknown dogs are barreling toward each other or lifesaving when a dog is running into oncoming traffic. Yet it often remains one of the vaguest concepts for our dogs to learn and one many dog owners struggle with. In fact, most owners don’t realize what they want from a recall. When we are unsure what we want our dogs to do, how can we expect them to meet our expectations?
Owner, Head Trainer