The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step. - Lao Tzu
Happy New Year! Sparkle and I have started training in earnest. Here are some highlights:
We’ve had the opportunity to go on almost daily hikes with friends. In the process, we’ve been training opportunistically with issues around car travel, sounds, and dogs/strangers on the trail.
As we take frequent car trips of varying lengths, Sparkle is becoming more accustomed to car travel in a crate. Initially we were frequently throwing treats in the crate while we were driving and rewarding calm. Now she can settle for essentially an entire trip. There is still work to do with going into the crate enthusiastically and rushing out.
On a recent 8 mile hike, we happened to be near a firing range, so I had the opportunity to give a high value treat every time there was a gun shot. We wouldn’t have purposely chosen such an intense situation to work on this, but sometimes you work with what the environment throws at you. Over the course of the walk, she did become more comfortable, but there is still lots of work to do here. She did great with dogs and people for most of the hike. The only glitch was in the last half mile we ran into the dog that put her over the edge. It was probably a case of trigger stacking; she dealt with a number of stressors over the course of the hike and this was the last straw. She recovered nicely, though.
On our daily walks, we work on anti-reactivity exercises that focus on making good things happen in the presence of new people and dogs and on rewarding for looking away from things that worry her.
Our formal training has begun in earnest. We’ve worked on a number of skills that we’ll need for our trip. This week’s focus was on crate work, pack prep, drop it, and recalls. In the videos below, you’ll notice a big bulky thing on her collar. That’s her Whistle GPS. It’s not a shock collar. I use the Whistle to track her activity level and if she was to get loose, I’d be also to track her if she was in a place with cell coverage. Anyhow, here’s what we did (and why):
Barging out of her crate and running into a crowded parking lot at a rest area. Rushing through the tent door before it's fully unzipped, taking the door with her. Breaking position when I have per posed for the perfect picture. These are just a few of the things I would prefer not to happen on our trip. I'm going to make those things a lot less likely while also making her comfortable in confined areas by teaching her that good things happen in the crate and that the easiest way to get the crate door (and later tent door) to open is to sit (or lie down) patiently and to stay in that positon until she is relased. In the video below you'll see the start of our work, which is very roughly based on Susan Garrett's Crate Games, which in turn appears to be influenced by the chicken crating procedures in chicken camps first run by Bob Bailey and now offered by Terry Ryan.
Sparkle's going to have to carry her own weight on this trip. Not literally her entire weight, but some percentage of it in the form of wearing a pack. Most dogs don't like wearing a pack at first. Sparkle's didn't come to us enjoying body handling in general, so this could pose a particular challenge. Luckily we've been working on helping her be more comfortable with this. In the video below, we begin the process.
For safety's sake, Sparkle will, for the most part be either on a regular leash, waist leash, or long line. Still, there are chances that she'll end up off leash and I want to make sure that she'll come back, not just to me, but a stranger and that whoever she is being recalled to will be able to get ahold of her collar and put her on leash and/or read her tag. I've witnessed first hand some scary experiences where a loose dog would run away from a well meaning stranger at the last minute. This video shows you how we start to teach our dogs a recall, starting with a collar handling exercise that increases the chances that she'll accept collar handling.
We've been hiking the local trails as well as around Kensington Lake, Proud Lake and on the trails of Hudson Mills Metropark. Right now max mileage is about 8 miles, no packs. We also went on our first run of the year together earlier in the week, very short mileage (under 3 miles). Looking forward to better weather and greater distances.
I'll show you how I'm building out these skills plus adding new skills and new exercises to help Sparkle feel more comfortable with some of the things she'll face.
We'll continue to build our fitness while having fun out on the trails. See you then!
Angela and Lowell, your friendly Harmony Dog Trainers!