Reflections on Goal Setting and Relationship

My recent brain capacity for dog training has been being channeled into puppy preparations. As part of this, I have been focusing my energy on learning more about play, especially toy play. The new pup will have a drive for toys, provided that I don’t kill that drive, and I want to make the most of that. Toys are not Perrin’s favourite type of play, so I don’t have a lot of exposure in this area. As part of this process, I am making my way through Dog Sports Skills, Book 3: Play! by Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones. In the beginning of the book, there is a section that emphasizes the importance of reducing the pressure in training to ‘succeed’ and enjoying the process of working with your dog. This got me thinking.

In most areas of my life, I am an outcome or product drive person. I didn’t go to university because I love learning in a school setting, I needed my degree. I don’t knit because I love the process, but because I like custom socks. I don’t sew because I love the process, I sew because I need to make something I couldn’t buy.

This is where dog training and the relationship I have with my dog is different than anything else in my life. I just love being with Perrin. I truly enjoy working with him and playing with him because it is a fun thing to do. I am actually having difficulty setting goals and sticking to them, because there are so many fascinating rabbit holes to fall into and explore. Every time I set a training goal (we will finish our Parkour title, finally get our TEAM videos cleaned up and submitted,), there is another cool looking butterfly to chase (a new thing to shape, co-operative care, adding new things for Perrin to retrieve).

My lack of specific goals seems to keep me from getting frustrated, and by extension, keeps Perrin from getting frustrated. If something we are training  starts going sideways, I quit when it is clear Perrin or I are no longer having fun and move onto something else. Not because I thought this was good training (although in hindsight I would like to think that it is), but because it simply wasn’t enjoyable any more. I would work on something different, and maybe come back to the offending activity later (in the day, in the week or in the year) when I had thought more about it, or the environment was more appropriate, or I simply felt like it might be fun to try again.

I was given a great compliment from one of my friends who is a local trainer. We were training our dogs in the training building, and I was working on some skill with Perrin (I don’t remember what it was), but Perrin could just not focus on the task at hand. I switched gears and played with Perrin for a bit then worked on his ‘settling’ behaviour (laying flat out on his side). Perrin did super at his settling, not even looking up when new dogs came into the ring, and I was so so pleased with his ability. I left so proud of Perrin and my friend said “I love how fluid your goals are!”. I thought that was a wonderful compliment, as someone who has issues with relentlessly pursuing goals and quitting if I am not living up to my unrealistic expectations. The more I have thought about this, the more I realize that the reason I am able to be fluid about my ‘skills’ goals in any given instance in time, is because my overriding goal is having fun with my dog. Everything else flows down from there.

This is an interesting new perspective for me. It makes everything so much more enjoyable, and I hope I will be able to carry this over to some of my other hobbies, and into other areas of my life in general.

I would like to compete with Perrin one day, but I am scared of my hyper goal oriented, type A, ‘must be good at everything’ side coming in, taking over, and sucking the fun out of working with Perrin. I am terrified of going into the ring and failing (which is ridiculous, most people are not getting Q’s every run, and first runs are often a bit of a mess). I still have some personal work to do on not caring what other people think and not worrying about feeling judged for not being good enough at something. I have historical issues with only participating in things that I am good at, and only having fun if I am winning.

It seems that I have not brought this attitude over into day-to-day training with Perrin, as I was quick to recognize that it was entirely unfair and unrealistic to apply my own insanity to my non-human team mate. Perrin’s success at what we are doing was a direct result of my ability (or lack thereof) to clearly communicate,  and motivate him as well as making the right judgements for the environment/situation we are in, rather than a comment on Perrin’s innate abilities (and often his innate abilities shawn through where my abilities failed. There have definitely been ‘learning in spite of me’). I have done well understanding and internalizing that our normal work together is all about us having fun and having a relationship, and I need to transfer that same attitude over to competing before I go into the ring or it will be miserable for both Perrin and I.  For now, we will do fun things, keep working on skills, and continue developing our relationship while I work on gaining that outlook.

 

 

 

May 17th Training Log

Things are going to get a little sparse as the move gets closer and then is executed, but I will do updates as I can.

Yesterday Perrin and I worked on shaping a head nod, then went out for another round of SAR practice and an offleash group walk with the same four dogs as last week. I feel like Perrin’s social skills are improving, although his play style is on the rougher side and I don’t see that changing. He did a good job of disengaging and moving on when things got a little tense.

We worked on some group down stays. Perrin has a decent down stay, but holding one so close to other dogs is new, so I stayed close to him to keep the level of difficulty down. I also experimented with a reward schedule where every time a dog in the group broke and Perrin stayed, I marked and rewarded him in the down position. My thought process was that every time another dog gets up, Perrin would look to me rather than getting up to follow. Will it work? What unanticipated side effects will I get? I dont know. I will have to wait and see what the results are from that experiment!

I learned that Perrin has a problem standing by while I work with other dogs. He made quite the racket in the car while I was playing tug with his Lab friend. Perrin and I will have to work on that given that he will be getting a little brother this summer!

 

Backpacking With My Dog II: Considerations and Downsides

So here is ‘Hiking With My Dog: Part II’ (part one, all about my gear, can be found here).

I love to hike and I especially love to hike with Perrin, however there are lots of things I need to take into consideration before we go hiking.

The first decision is whether to hit the trail at all. For some dogs, due to age, conditioning or injury may not be ready for hiking at all. Or it may be a matter of choosing an appropriate level of difficulty. The last thing I want is Perrin exhausting or injuring himself, or for him to harm his joints when he was a puppy. One thing I regret doing with Perrin was starting him with a backpack too young (about a year old). I never put much weight in it, and even as an adult I restrict his pack to about 10 lbs, but I still should have waited longer. If I did it again, I would wait until he was 2 and more fully developed.

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Perrin trying on his backpack for the first time.

Before heading out, I always take stock of Perrin to make sure he is feeling okay. During this pre-trip check, immediately prior to a 5 day trip, I found the beginnings of a hot spot, and was able to get it shaved down and pick up some hot spot cream from the vet. That could have been a mess if I hadn’t noticed it until we were on the trail and 30km from the car!

There are other things that make hiking with a dog riskier than hiking alone. Before I go out, I have to decide if I can accept these risks.

Risks Exacerbated by Dogs

  • Wildlife Encounters: A dog who is off leash could very well bring a bear back to you, or make an encounter with one much worse. An off leash dog may also take after wildlife and be very difficult to find (not to mention they would be harassing wildlife, and this type of behaviour is often what leads to dogs being banned from parks and trails).
  • Injury to the Dog: This is a big consideration for me as we usually hike solo, and Perrin weighs over 100lbs. An injured dog is going to have a very hard time making it out, even with first aid care. And if you are unable to carry your dog out, you are in quite the pickle. This is one reason I have Perrin pull a toboggan when we hike in the winter; I could always load him up on it and pull him out. If something acute happened, like bloat, you would also be in a very bad place. I do carry an InReach incase of injury, and I have always wondered if I would be fined for ‘an improper use of rescue services’ if I were to call for rescue because my dog was hurt. Luckily I have never had to find out, but I know what I would choose to do if I were in that situation.
  • Injury to Yourself: Because I hike solo most of the time, my risk tolerance when on the trail is very very low. If in doubt, I hike out. However, I know that I would put myself in situations that are far past my normal threshold for risk of injury in order to rescue Perrin from a bad situation.

Downsides

Beside the increased risks mentioned above, there are other downsides and limitations to hiking with a dog.

  • Gear Limitations: You have to be much more conscious of your gear selection, and this can be very limiting if you are of the ultralight persuasion. I have one ultralight tent I have all but stopped using because Perrin is so hard on it. I have moved to using my tarp if I am
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    Perrin in front of my tarp set up. If you look really closely on the left side of the tarp, you can see paw prints from Perrin trying to ‘help’ during set up.

    hiking solo, or my heavy, but more durable tent if I am hiking with someone else. I also stopped using my hammock set up because there is nowhere for Perrin to sleep. You will also end up carrying more gear, between dog food, extra water, first aid supplies and bedding (for winter camping). Inclement weather gets just that much worse. Imagine sharing a small ultralight tent with a very hairy, very cuddly, soaking wet dog. In a down sleeping bag. Not the highlight of my hiking trip!

  • Trail limitations: Unfortunately there are more and more places where you are not allowed to hike with dogs, so this limits the places you can go. There are some incredible, world class hikes in the Canadian Rockies that I would love to hike, but will never be able to because dogs are banned from the trails. Even in dog friendly places there are often
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    Perrin hiking on leash on the way to Mt Assiniboine

    restrictions in place that make hike planning harder. For instance, on the Assiniboine hike my partner and I did in 2016, having Perrin with us added 5 km and 500 m of elevation gain to our first day. Normally hikers get a shuttle from the parking lot of Sunshine Village up to the trailhead at the main lodge, however we were not able to do that so we had to walk up the access road. The pup also limited our options for alternate hike-out routes once we were in. We had originally planned to hike in and out the same way (over Citadel Pass), as we only had one car and could not run a shuttle to use one of the alternate routes. However once we got in to Mount Assiniboine we realized this was a poor plan. Due to the wonderful dog loving helicopter loader who worked for Assiniboine Lodge, we were able to hike out to the Mount Shark trail head, and he drove us to Canmore where we were able to get a cab back to the car. We got very lucky, and if we didn’t have the dog, we could have just flown out.

  • Increased Anxiety: Maybe this is just me, but my concern level goes way up when hiking with Perrin. I am always evaluating if he is okay. Has he drank enough water? Is it too hot out for him? Do we need to take a break? Dogs can be very stoic, and some will work until they drop, so it is important to keep an eye on the furry ones and be proactive about their health.
  • Dealing with poop: Yes, this is a real consideration. As a responsible hiker, you want to deal with your dog’s excrement the same way you would deal with your own. This means making sure your dog goes the prescribed distance away from trails and waterways, and burying it at the specified depth afterwards. Or picking it up and carrying to the nearest campsite with facilities (then carrying the bag out, as backcountry facilities are not designed for plastic garbage).

I beg all dog owners who are taking their pets out into the backcountry to be responsible and follow the rules. Most areas around me require dogs to be on leash, and off leash dogs can be dangerous to wildlife, other hikers, their owners, and themselves. Dog poop on the trail is unpleasant for everyone. Don’t let your dog be noisy at the campsite, keep them out of communal shelters (where they are typically not allowed anyway) and do not let them visit other hikers without express permission. I have found that nothing breeds bad feelings between hikers like a noisy dog, or one walking on top of or getting into other people’s things. If we want to be able to keep hiking the dog friendly trails that are left, we need to prove that dog owners will follow the rules, not be a nuisance to other hikers or wildlife, and that our pets will leave minimal traces on the environment.

I don’t mean to dissuade people from hiking with their dogs. I love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way! There are simply many things to be considered before you go out to ensure that everyone stays happy, healthy, and safe.

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May 13 Training Log

Today we went and did some training with Perrin’s lab friend. We mainly worked on settling as they both needed that today.

The best part was afterwards! Even though it was raining, we went out to the woods and worked on some SAR training for the lab where I got to play the victim. It was really good practice for the potential future, because man that dog can tug! My triceps still hurt!

We then went on an off leash walk with all 4 dogs, and Perrin did so well. One of the dogs with us isn’t always dog friendly but generally does well if left un-pestered. I was concerned that Perrin would make things worse with his lack of social skills, but he handled everything beautifully and with tact. Several times he disengaged from the border collie ‘stare’ that he has had trouble with in the past, didn’t escalate posturing gestures like he normally does, and left the pup alone for the most part even at a higher energy level/arousal state. I would have never guessed that he had that level of social skill in him. Hopefully he is learning! They all had a lovely run in the woods, getting soaking wet and even going for a brief swim.

May 9th Training Log

We worked on a number of things today. I did not plan out this training session, so it is pretty scattered. We did some heeling work and practiced his swing into heel, and some cone wraps and leg wraps. Perrin was very distracted because his very favourite person (my uncle) is visiting and was sitting at the end of the training area. I am happy with how all the behaviours are coming along though!

May 5/6/7 Training Log

Once again, I am behind recording Perrin’s and my weekend work.

Friday and Saturday were light on training and heavy on packing and organization. We went for some trail runs instead, which Perrin really enjoys.

On Sunday we did some work on nose touches on a target on the floor. Perrin has struggled with this in the past, as he initially thought a foot target was the right answer to the question. So I picked up the target until he was consistantly nose touching it, then slowly moved it closer to the ground, which seemed to be working. I had stopped working on that for a while and came back to it on Sunday. I started with the target in my hand and moved it to the floor, then started going for a more sustained nose touch rather than a ‘drive-by’. Perrin had other ideas though, and started picking the target up. I tried clicking earlier to head that off, but I just couldn’t get my timing right so I cut my losses and decided to think it over a bit. I decided to try using a hand target on the floor. Perrin understands a hand target, but we had never tried moving it to the floor before. I think that worked really well, and I will continue with that track until Perrin understands that nose targeting something on the floor is a pay-able behaviour.

I needed to pick up some packing supplies and Perrin was getting restless after a couple of days with little mental simulation, so Perrin and I headed over to the local dog friendly Canadian Tire to kill two birds with one stone. Perrin absolutely rocked it! The store was pretty busy, with lots of people and a few other dogs, but he wasn’t fazed. His heeling was spot on (awesome pivots, side steps, straight lines and a bit of backing up), his focus was impeccable, his enthusiasm was high; he was just the picture of joy and teamwork. It was amazing! I wish I had a video of it. His happy face drew lots of looks, but his mind was all on the task at hand. What a sweet fluff!

 

Backpacking with My Dog I: Perrin’s Gear

Spring has finally arrived! The alpine will still be snowbound for at least another month and by the time it frees up I won’t be near the mountains anymore. So naturally I am obsessed with the hiking and backcountry camping that I won’t be able to do. I figured I would use that angst productively to write something up about hiking with Perrin. When people find out that I do fairly long backpacking trips with my dog, I usually get a lot of questions!

I love backcountry camping, especially solo where it is just me and Perrin. Over the past few years we have done hundreds of kilometres of trail through all kinds of different conditions, and have loved every single one (okay, maybe not EVERY single one…). Perrin is an amazing trail dog, and through our hiking trips we have seen some incredible landscapes and made unforgettable memories.

This is Perrin at Mount Robson:

 

Mount Assiniboine:

And various peaks in Willmore Wilderness Area:

 

There tends to be a large proportion of gear heads in the hiking world (especially in ultralight hiking), and much thought goes into every piece of equipment that is brought into the backcountry. Hiking with Perrin has dramatically changed the hiking equipment I choose for myself, but much thought also had to go into his gear as well. Here is a quick rundown of the dog-specific gear that I take when hiking with Perrin:

  • Backpack: This is optional gear, but Perrin does carry one. It is important to make sure that the pack fits him and does not chafe. I check it periodically as he grows and changes shape to make sure it is still comfortable for him. A backpack also needs to be balanced properly (which can be a pain on the trail) and it must not be too heavy. I have seen different guidelines out there for maximum weights for adult dogs, but I choose to be conservative and keep under around 10% of body weight. Even less if it is very hot out, if we are moving very quickly, or if the hike is very difficult. There have been very hot days where I have chosen to take Perrin’s pack off him and carry it myself. I have seen guidelines that suggest 25% as a maximum, but I am personally not comfortable with that. I just couldn’t fathom Perrin carrying 25lbs all day; I seldom ever carry that much!
  • Water and Food Containers: On the trail, Perrin mostly he drinks out of my camel back, or his collapsable bottles (so if that grosses you out, don’t ask me to share my water with you!). This does waste a lot of water and would probably not be the best choice in areas where water is scarce. Perrin does so poorly in the heat, I would likely avoid hikes in those conditions anyway. I avoid putting food directly on the ground because we hike in bear country and I do not want to attract critters big or small, so I use a ‘portable sink’ that came with my pot set as his food and water dish when we are in camp. It collapses down to nothing and has held up really well for something I was just going to throw out.
  • Bug Spray: I normally wouldn’t carry it for myself in the places that I hike, as I tend to wear long pants, shirts and a buff. But Perrin needs it for his groin, armpits and nose. He would need even more if he weren’t so hairy. I carry a natural based bug spray, because DEET is not good for dogs.
  • A Collar Light: This is indispensable! I originally bought it just incase Perrin got loose at night, but it has been a life saver! On one hike, I had planned to hike halfway up a mountain, camp overnight (in February), then summit the next day. However around 5:00pm I was getting a bad vibe, so decided to hike the 5 km back to the car. This was fine, except that it was almost dark. The trail was steep, rocky and icy and my headlamp wasn’t strong enough to see the trail well. It didn’t take long for me to be  going off course repeatedly and having to back track, with Perrin following along behind me on a leash. By this time I had gone less than a kilometer, it was very windy, and about -15C. I was considering just setting up camp and sticking it out, when I decided to see if Perrin could follow the trail. I freed him of the leash, and off he trotted, collar light leading the way down the trail. At every place I had to scramble down and at every icy patch, he stopped and waited for me to catch back up before continuing on. He never once turned wrong and I followed him the way out to the car. I couldn’t have done it without his light to follow. What a dog!
  • Break Away Collar: For hiking (and going to the kennel) Perrin wears a break away collar. If he were to ever get caught on anything by his collar, it will just pull off instead of strangling him. I keep it on as somewhere for his ID, and occasional leash use (although I use the ring on his backpack more often).
  • Food: When you are carrying all of your food, the weight of it becomes much more important. Perrin is raw fed, which makes this much more challenging. A kibble fed dog could just carry their regular food, but raw meat in the wilderness was just not going to work for us. I ended up settling on a dehydrated raw food, which has ingredients that I like and is even lighter than kibble. The downside? It is very expensive and Perrin eats ALOT. Because I dehydrate my own meals for camping, Perrin’s hiking food costs much more than my own.
  • Winter: In the winter I have several pieces of gear that we add. If the terrain permits, Perrin pulls a toboggan instead of carrying a pack, and I bring a sleeping bag and a foam mat for him. Not that he likes the sleeping bag, he won’t get in it until it is below -17C.
  • First aid Supplies: I do carry a certain number of extra things for the pup incase of accident. These include Benadryl (for me as well), vet wrap (again, a multi-species item), Metacam (or other vet approved pain killer), and hot-spot cream (Perrin often develops hot spots from hot damp weather and from licking bug bites).
  • Strong Basic Obedience Commands: Okay, so this isn’t technically gear, but I wouldn’t hit the trail without them! If Perrin couldn’t walk nicely on a leash, we wouldn’t be able to leave the house. Many of the places that we hike require dogs to be on leash. I usually hike with him on a 4-6 foot nylon leash looped to the hip belt of my pack, and clipped to the attachment point on his harness. This system works for us to keep him close and keep the leash out of our way. A bombproof recall is imperative for when Perrin is going to be off leash, and is highly recommended incase he end up free anyway. Other skills I have found useful are well proofed stays (standing/down/sitting), a ‘wait for me’ command in off leash areas, leave it (for icky things on the trail or passing other hikers), a distance stop (or sit or down stay). I do wish that we had a ‘quiet’ cue and a ‘defecate on command’ cue, as they would be useful too, but I have never taught them. Crate training is a surprisingly useful skill, as in my limited experience it seems to transfer well to a tent. Basic training sets dogs free. Without these skills, Perrin could not come out into the woods with me, among many other things we have enjoyed over the years.

Thats it for equipment! I will do another post later on about other considerations that I take into account when hiking with my dog.

May 4th Training Log

Today was a relaxation day!

At lunch Perrin and I cuddled and played some tag, biteyface and tug. Tonight we went for a lovely long walk in the woods and investigated the prairie crocuses that are now coming up, as well as a funny bush with teeny tiny pinecones. Perrin sniffed around to his heart’s content and also was a perfect gentleman when a little off leash dog ran up to him and started barking in his face. So proud! (Normally he barks right back).