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.
As I’m writing this I am regretting that I don’t have a post on what concept training is, because it would make a lot more sense to anyone reading this if I did. But I’m going to write it anyway because its where my mind is and anyone who has spent any time writing knows you can’t always choose the subject that takes over the keyboard.
A short answer, concept training is about reshaping a dog’s brain. Helping them make better choices by strengthening good concepts like Engagement (with you), Disengagement (with distractions), Confidence, and Self Control. As I’ve said over the last few days, concept training is fairly new to us, we’ve only been a part of this world for the last year or so. Every day I see more and more how my dogs have changed in a positive way, and when I’m beginning to notice the way I’ve changed too.
You see, while I was reshaping my dogs’ brains I was also reshaping my own in not so subtle ways. I’ve become more optimistic, believing that every situation can have an upside, even in the middle of a pandemic. There are days I struggle (don’t we all?) but all in all I’ve been able to hold my optimism, to guard it against pessimistic thoughts and actions.
I’m certainly more flexible, I can adjust a training session as needed. Move tasks around on my calendar either by days or just hours and still accomplish them, something I’ve always struggled with in the past. I can “wing it” when I need to, and right now I’m finding it not so difficult to transfer all my training classes online.
Self-control, this is a hard one, especially lately. I want to carbo-load on everything these days. But I can say no to desserts and chocolate more often than before. I make healthier choices, food, exercise, and self-care. I can win internal arguments when I just don’t want to do something. I can even, on most days, avoid getting sucked into the news or getting lost on social media.
There are other things like focusing on my goals and tasks that need to be accomplished, and the grit to get them done. But what I’m most proud of is personal and it’s hard to put it out there in the great big internet world.
It’s confidence. The confidence that I’ve got this, whatever this is. That I’ve become resourceful and flexible enough to roll with the punches. And the toughest one, the one that brings us to today, that I’m comfortable with me. In my own body, in my own skin. The concepts that I was building gave me the self-esteem I would never have without it. It’s a little crazy that dog training can build confidence with you both as a handler and as a person, but it does.
Today I proudly asked my husband to take a picture of me with Stark and Ella. I’m the one that takes photos, that stays safe behind the camera. All I see in that picture is me, my dogs, and my smile. There are no insecurities or fears, just me and them. They bring out the best in me, each and every day.
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