"Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach." - Earl Nightengale
I was glad I had taught her directional cues (she'll go left when i say "left", etc.), as there were a number of sharp turns or spots where there was more than one way over the rocks, but some preferable to others. I'll have to show how I trained that as I hadn't thought about how handy that would be as I had taught that skill more for canicross, which is essentially running with your dog with them attached to you and pulling.
It was the first time that I could not find the summit marker upon reaching the top of a mountain, but according to my altimeter, we did make it.
The trail widens past an antenna and structure and we could have gone many miles (to Georgia, in fact), but we had to get to Stamford by afternoon, so after a mile or so further, we headed back.
On the way back we took a left from a split in the trail and went down the fire road that runs more or less parallel to the AT. It is an easier grade, but you miss out on some views. Right before we got back the trailhead, we took a left at a side trail that leads to Table Rock and past that to a steep descent to the far side of Lake Lenape before taking you back to the parking lot for the trailhead.
We hiked about 6 miles that morning. It was a nice break from the 550 miles of driving we had done the day before. Up to this point, I think my training has been paying off. Sparkle was the most relaxed she's been on a long car ride. She did well in the cabin and on the trails. The pack fit Sparkle well and she didn't seem to mind carrying it. She didn't chafe and her paws held out, even though it was pretty rocky. We didn't see any people or any dogs the entire 3 hours on the trail, so we really felt like we had what I understand to be a busy trail to ourselves.
I feel like I achieved my goal of seeing where we were with taking a long road trip, how she'll settle down for the night in a strange place, how she'll handle the pack, and how she'll hold up on the trail. Feeling good about tackling the CL50 in just a few short weeks. Here's a video compilation of the trip. Enjoy!
Health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. - Thomas Jefferson
Training the Body
I've been writing a lot about addressing behaviors and associations that will support the success of our trip, but if we're going to hike 15 or so miles a day for a few days and carrying a good percentage of our body weight, we're going to have to work up to it.
I'm no stranger to endurance efforts, having a background in triathlon, marathons, and ultra distance, topping off at 50 miles.
The triple secrets of being able to complete any kind of endurance event are:
1. Taking the time to prepare your body through gradual increases of duration and intensity with periodic breaks in throughout.
2. Proper mental attitude, meaning both the confidence that you will be successful and having a plan of how you will handle things when they go wrong.
3. Proper nutrition and hydration. Too few calories at too much effort and your body makes you stop. And of course, we need water, even more than food.
This post will focus on preparing our bodies for the task at hand. Here's the general training strategy:
1. Weekly mileage increases should, on average, be around 10%, working towards a target of a single hike equal to the anticipated longest day of hiking (about 16 miles) and a longest run of a bit more than half of that (actually, I have a 10 mile run planned for late March near the Delaware Water Gap that should be pretty exciting for the two of us). Our final pre-trip hike is scheduled on a 16+ loop from Hell (well, actually around Hell, MI).
2. Amount of weight carried will be added by about 25% at a time, reaching 100% within 4 weeks of the trip.
3. Physical activities will include hiking with equipment, running, body awareness exercises, and strengthening.
Obviously getting hiking miles in with our actual equipment is the best kind of preparation, so we've been building our miles.
I don't have the time to hike as many miles as I would like, so I'm choosing to up our activity level doing something that is more efficient and that Sparkle and I both enjoy: running! We're starting out with a couple of one hour runs a week, throwing in as many hills as we can, which is a challenge where we live. Delaware Water Gap 10 mile prep run I have planned (because it's on the way to a training conference), the hills will matter because there is a lot more elevation change there as opposed to the CL50, which is good, because it should make the actual CL50 not seem quite so hard.
I'm using the Omnijore by Ruffwear to connect Sparkle to myself. I like it because it keeps her safe, is comfortable for both dog and human, and is designed to distribute weight evenly across her body. The leash stretches, so there is there is no chance of her pulling and then coming to a jarring stop. There is also an emergency release system so that if I need to quickly disconnect her, I can do it almost instantly, and with one hand. It also allows me to carry a phone, keys, poop bags, and water for us.
This is the route we took on a recent training run. Despite the small elevation gain, the hills that we did climb were quite steep and the trail was quite muddy, thus slowing our progress.
Body Awareness and Strenghtening
I've started doing the 7 minute workout 3 times a week and highly recommend it. Do yourself a favor and make time for it! I've also been getting Sparkle both on various natural objects such as downed trees to build body awareness and confidence as well as on exercise balls.
Work on building your dog's own fitness. One easy way to get started is to use the information associated with Dog Scouts of America's K9 Fitness Merit Badge, which was developed by Harmony Dog Training!
If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead - Oswald Chambers
We often tell our students that success is not always linear. There can and will be setbacks. We have to plan for these and be patient with ourselves and our dogs.
From the outset of this experience, I have shared that Sparkle has some fears, particularly around sounds as well as some discomforts with body handling. She also does not like when its dark outside because she's often surprised by things and she doesn't like surprises.
Much of our training has focused on helping reduce or eliminate these fears. The primary process that I'm using is called counter conditioning and desensitization. The basic concept is that when your dog is relaxed, you pair increasing levels of something that the dog finds unpleasant with something that they like. The most common way this process fails to work is when we work with our dogs when they are not feeling ok or when we push too far too soon.
As you should know by now, I'm not going to intentionally force Sparkle into situations she's not comfortable with in hopes that she'll "get over it." That being said, in the past few weeks, I have been challenged to create an environment for her in which she's able to feel safe outside. You see, the neighborhood we live in is near two active train lines, a major hospital, and a highway. I have always thought that it was a quiet neighborhood because none of the sounds associated with those things happens all of the time or are generally very loud right by our house. Sparkle's reactions to them have caused me to reconsider.
A combination of factors such as bad weather leading to more accidents (and more sirens), increased train traffic (more train horns), and dogs and people suddenly appearing in the dark have led to increasingly stressful outings for her, and by extension me.
We've been working on her issues inside, as you're about to see, but I have been challenged to do the same outside as effectively as I would like. The kicker is that the effects of stress are cumulative, so even if only one of the things she's worried about happens on a given day, they all add up if they happen in successive days. This is known as trigger stacking.
Think about how it feels if you're running late to work and you miss every light and at the last light, the person in front of you doesn't start to move when the light turns green. How much self control will it take to not lean on your horn in that situation vs if you weren't in a rush and you had made all of the previous lights. It's the same sort of situation where Sparkle has been frequently on edge even before we leave the house.
Unable to provide Sparkle with a several day break (which is how long stress hormones can take to leave the body), she has actually regressed in her behavior. What I will be focusing on now will be trying to do more fun high intensity things outside, and doing a better job of limiting exposure to things that worry her by taking shorter walks and having a higher percentage of the time be about ball play, which is her top reinforcer. I will also be taking higher value treats. Her favorite treat is string cheese, so I'll be packing that more. I may even switch to using our treadmill to get her more exercise inside while she de-stresses.
The good news is that our work inside has been going well. Here's what we've been working on:
Making Scary Sounds Less Scary
Sparkle has a number of sound triggers such as train horns and gunfire and also has difficulty with sudden sounds in general. In this video I'm using an app to help her get more comfortable with a few of these sounds. Prior to starting to record, I had relaxing background music and a white noise generator playing. I then played the sounds at a volume where she just barely registered but still remained relaxed, so I was looking for just an ear turn in the direction of the sound. I paired the sound with string cheese and over time increased the volume.
Feeling Better about Lifting
I've been working on helping Sparkle feel more comfortable with body handling. One of the things I may need to do on the trip is pick her up if she gets tangled in something or bogged down in mud or is injured. It's also a good thing to be able to do if we're at the vet and she needs to be lifted on a table. I used the same principle as with sounds where I started off with her relaxed and then paired the start of the lift with string cheese and worked up to lifting her a small height.
Being able to choose what to do, freely and without compulsion, is an incredibly important aspect of life. - Irith Bloom
People are often surprised that NO is not part of our training. In our experience, which is backed up by science, we don't need it.
On our trip from Michigan to New York, I will be relying heavily on gps. I will pass many exits and many roads that are not the right choice to getting me to Cranberry Lake. Think about what it would be like if every time I passed an exit the gps said, "In 500 feet, don't turn there...". What if took a wrong turn and all the information I got was "No!" What if I wanted to made a side trip and I heard "Wrong"?
That's not what happens, is it? Your gps tells you what to do instead of what not to do. If you deviate from the route, it simply tells you what to do to get back on track towards your destination, and without judgement. Well, that's how we train dogs (and people, for that matter).
What is also true about using the gps is that if I rely solely on it's prompts, I may get to where I want to go, but I will not learn how I got there or know how to get back on my own. Similarly, we need our dogs to choose the behaviors they perform so they know what "pays" and what doesn't.
If we are simply lure them or physically move them into the positions we want them to be in we may get the end result, but at two costs; First, they didn't learn the actual behavior and so it's unlikely that they will offer it on their own or when cued; Second, and most important, they didn't get to choose the behavior.
Choice and predictability are vital to all animals. They are actually foundations of good mental health. If you remove choice and predictability, effects can include anxiety, stress, depression, and decreased immune function as well as other problems. When your choices matter, you become more confident. You become more engaged. You become more peaceful and feel better.
Unfortunately, in many of our relationships with our dogs, choice is in short supply. Choices we commonly limit include where they sleep, when they eat, what they eat, if/when they get to go outside and for how long, if and when they get to have social interactions, either with humans or other dogs, where they get to walk, how far they get to go from you, whether or not they get to reproduce and so on. How would you like these choices made for you?
Perhaps the most important choices that we limit involve our dog's emotional state. It's ironic in a way, because so many people limit their own actions due to daily fears and yet we expect our dogs, living in the same chaotic world as we do to somehow not have fears of their own.
If our dogs show fear or reactivity towards people or other dogs, or discomfort with sounds or body handling sometimes we expect them to "just get over it" or "work things out." And often we can power through, dragging the dog a bit on the walk until they start walking on their own, forcing an unpleasant initial greeting with ends up being ok, putting the pack and the booties on so they walk around like a zombie at first before getting used to it, but this comes at a cost. Our dogs may become more fearful or they may shut down or act out more. It does nothing for our relationship and for most people, that's why we got a dog in the first place, isn't it?
Dogs get put into all sorts of stressful situations that started out with best of intentions, like going for a walk or out to the dog park and yet how many dogs are not enjoying the interactions they're having with other people, dogs, or their environment in these situations. The stressful situations that I'm personally working on with Sparkle include travel, body handling, wearing backpacking gear, and being more comfortable with other people and other dogs. They're not stopping me from planning this trip, but are instead inspiring me to help her work through this so that she can enjoy this trip.
It should be clear by now that I'm not saying we keep our dogs in bubble and never expose them to anything stressful, because that's also removing choice. What I am saying, is be aware of what your dog likes and doesn't like and for the things s(he) doesn't like, work to change those associations and in a way that your dog is in control. And if you're not sure how to read your dog's body language, check this out.
The training that we've been working on as of late has focused on first, teaching Sparkle that her choices matter, and that the things that she has traditionally thought as scary might actually be not so bad or even good! We're also continuing to work on our recall. Here are some highlights:
It's Your Choice
This is our single favorite exercise. We teach all of our own dogs and all of our students this game which was popularized by Susan Garrett. This game is great for many reasons: it teaches your dog that his or her choices matter; it builds confidence; it increases self control; it provides the foundation for a default leave-it; it makes it easy to do cool tricks with your dog that will impress your friends and family. Can you see how these things will also make it easier for Sparkle to have a good trip? Here's what it looks like:
I'm continuing to help Sparkle feel more comfortable with a pack on her back. Here I've worked up to having a fully weighted pack resting on her back without being clipped in.
I'm continuing to build Sparkle's recall through an exercise that teaches her to whip around and check in with me when I call her name. The exercise is called Whiplash Turns and are inspired by the work of Leslie McDevitt.
We've been doing more local hiking, including a nice loop around Losee Lake.
Life Begins Outside of Your Comfort Zone – Neale Donald Walshe
About every 2 months Harmony Dog Training graduates a new class of dogs in our Reactive Rover, Puppy Preschool, and Basic Manners classes. During graduation we tell people that this is just the beginning. While I hope that our students take this to heart, I imagine that for some, the training ends the moment they hang their dog’s “diploma” on their refrigerator. I do not think that this is because they are not interested in doing more with their dog, it’s just that for many people, it’s not obvious what training is outside of the context of a class, and how this “real life” training can help them have more fun with their canine companion. To help anyone who wonders how training achieve this, I want to share with you the training that I am going to be doing as I prepare one of our dogs for an adventure this spring.
This Sparkle. She is a 1.5-year-old Australian Shepherd that we adopted over the summer. Sparkle comes to us with unlimited enthusiasm and limited training. She loves the outdoors and is extremely difficult to tire out.
This is Lowell. He is a 41-year-old dog trainer, the co-owner of Harmony Dog Training in Ann Arbor with his wife, Angela and our family of dogs, cats, and birds. He has been looking for a way to spend more time training his own dog. He loves the outdoors and is extremely difficult to tire out. He's the one writing this blog.
Source: Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corporation
This is Cranberry Lake, the third largest lake in the Adirondacks. In 6 months we plan to complete a 4 day, 50 mile circumnavigation of the lake (known as the Cranberry Lake 50.) We’re doing it for the challenge and for another very important reason. If you complete it, you get a patch to add to your backpack (or in our case, backpacks).
To make the process enjoyable to both of us, I’m going to make my best efforts to follow these three principles:
Angela and Lowell, your friendly Harmony Dog Trainers!