My Most Embarrassing Dog Incident (AKA The Beginning of the Beginning)

Lots going on at the moment! Perrin continues to enjoy running with his brother on the farm and doing a bit of fitness course work. His inability to wait his turn while I am working with other dogs has become painfully apparent, so that will be a big skill to work now and after the puppy gets here!

In lieu of training notes, I had some more musings to share. In this case, what I feel was the most embarrassing event in my life, and the time I failed Perrin in the biggest way. The therapy test. Before I knew anything at all about dog training, before I even got Perrin, I had decided that I would train my dog to the ‘therapy dog standard’. I really wanted to train and to have a well behaved dog, but didn’t know where to start. The therapy dog standard gave me a direction and a goal. So when a group arrived in Grande Prairie to do testing, and Perrin was old enough to test, I jumped on it! We had been working with a local coercion trainer for about 6 months, and I was pretty happy with Perrin’s skills overall. I almost threw up before the testing started, but that is pretty normal for my performance anxiety nerves.

It was truly the most embarrassing experience of my life. I was sure everyone else was looking at us thinking “Wow, she is a pretty big moron if she thought THAT dog could pass a therapy test!” and/or “What a horrible dog!”. And that mattered to me, what other people thought. Perrin could have passed the test, his skills were great! As long as he had a job to do, he did well, but being able to wait his turn around other dogs? That was another store entirely!

The barking. The lunging on the leash. The frantic games of leash tug. The whining. The rolling around on the ground. The jumping and biting my clothes. The barking.

To make a long story short, although Perrin’s skills were fantastic, we were dismissed before lunch due to the disruption he was causing. I managed to be gracious to the evaluators and hosts, and almost made it to the car before I started crying. Then I quit training for 4 months.

In hindsight, the idea that an adolescent intact male might have difficulty focusing in a room full of other dogs is to be expected under the best of circumstances with a well prepared dog and trainer. And these were not the best of circumstances, nor were either of us well trained. As I learned more after the fact, and looked back at this situation, the more I saw the piling on of factors that made this a recipe for disaster:

  • Perrin was 18 months old at the time, right in the midst of adolescence. Not exactly the best known developmental period for impulse control and attention span, let alone around other dogs! And I had never worked on calmness that close to other dogs. I just expected that because he knew the skills, he should be able to ‘behave himself’.
  • I had no idea about over-arousal or how to deal with it. Everything I did just upped Perrin’s frustration levels and made things worse.
  • There was no treats or toys allowed in the the testing room. That was where we waited, as well as where the examinations were conducted. This worked out to HOURS without classical reinforcement, and I didn’t even know the concept of personal play as a reinforcer at the time, let alone actually having had worked on it. That is a much longer time period without any classical reinforcers than any dog sport venue I am aware of, and there are entire courses devoted to reducing reinforcement schedules for the duration of a ring performance. I was expecting WAY too much here.
  • I was a nervous wreck, which only got worse the more Perrin acted poorly, and I’m sure that directly translated to Perrin’s frustration levels. I was by far the youngest person/trainer in the room and didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with what was happening, or to understand that I did have an option to end things: I could have left! I could have walked out the minute it was clear I was just stressing Perrin out. It never once occurred to me that I could leave the room and quit the test, and I didn’t yet have the knowledge to understand Perrin’s behaviours as an expression of stress. I just thought he was being ‘disobedient’.

I really didn’t understand any of this at the time. I was angry, and upset with Perrin because he had embarrassed me by behaving so badly in such an inappropriate situation. And I was angry and upset at myself for being mad at my dog because I knew the whole thing was my fault and not his, I just didn’t know how. And not knowing how, or how to fix things made me angry and frustrated and sad and feeling like a failure. Failure has never been something that I deal with well. To this day, I have never been back into that training building or its associated pet store. I quit working with Perrin altogether for months before either of us felt like working together again.

BUT over a year and a half later, I can look back and have an infinitely better idea of what went wrong, how it could be fixed if it were something that we wanted to pursue again in the future, and how to better handle a similar situation if it ever happened again. I can see how much personal growth I needed to do before I could get to where I wanted Perrin and I to be. I can also see this disaster of a day was the catalyst for all of the wonderful things that have happened for Perrin and I since. That incident led me to pursue a different way to train. I never wanted to feel so angry with my dog again, like he was a failure who was acting poorly just to make me look bad. I wanted us to be a team, and enjoy working together. I wanted to have fun with my dog, and for training not to be a chore that left me crying after every session.

Less than 4 months after that test, I took my first online course in shaping, and through that I discovered a new way to train and have a relationship with my dog. A way to train that fostered the relationship with my dog that I always wanted to have. Changing the question from “What is my dog doing wrong?” to “What am I doing wrong?”, and having the knowledge to answer that latter question changed everything fundamentally. I wasn’t just picking on behaviour of Perrin’s I didn’t like and putting the entirety of the responsibility on him. I was acknowledging how I may have set him up for failure, or how I could make the path to success more clear to him. We were a team working through puzzles together, and the only thing that mattered is how we both felt about doing so.

I also got introduced the great wide world of dog sports. I realized that I didn’t even WANT to do therapy work, it was just the only guideline I knew of for training a ‘pet dog’, and what I wanted to do was have a relationship with Perrin. Once I found out about all the other goals we could have, therapy completely dropped off the radar for me. Not because we did badly once and I am afraid to go back. I am confident that I could build a proper training plan, and with the right amount of time, and careful selection of the organization in which we would test (to ensure I agreed with their testing set-up), that Perrin would pass with flying colours. It just doesn’t fall that high on my training priority list anymore (I dont even like people!). That test was leading me to other things: to a better way of life for us. I’m glad to say that I haven’t cried over dog training since!

 

June 7th Training Log

Perrin is starting to get settled into the city after the big move and then testing life as a farm dog. Our morning walks have consisted of going to the busy park across the street during rush hour and watching all the people, bikes, skateboards, kids, and dogs go by; just generally getting used to the noise and movement of the city again. In the afternoons we have been doing more serious ‘downtown’ walks that required thinking of Perrin. This has been lots of loose leash walking, heeling tightly, waiting to sniff until cued, not being able to pee on every blade of grass, sitting at crosswalks and lights, and being resilient to all the crazy city noises. He has done so well and blown me away with what he remembers from being a puppy in the city. Navigating the busy city seems to have taken all his brain capacity, as today was the first day since we have been here that he wanted to do some brain work.

Today we worked on sit-to-stands on a couch cushion for an unstable surface. After 3 months I am still waiting for the fitness equipment I want to come back into stock with the Canadian supplier, so until then we are improvising.

We then worked on a new shaping trick: unrolling a yoga mat. This was a completely new behaviour that I had never worked on shaping before. Perrin has never been taught to roll anything with his nose. The whole process is below, unedited, so it is full of my mistakes. Well, its mostly unedited, I pulled out the part where I ran out of treats and ran to the kitchen to get more.

Then we worked on putting ‘be sad’ (laying down with his face on the floor) on cue, then called it a day when Jake got home from work. It has only been three nights, but Perrin absolutely knows who is coming up the stairs after the buzzer to the apartment goes off.

 

Training Priorities/Honouring the Dogs Aptitudes and Desires

Perrin is enjoying his life as a farm dog at the moment. We have been working on bits and pieces everyday, but I haven’t been documenting lately. I figured I would post some thoughts I wrote a while ago but hadn’t gotten around to posting.

Once I dove into the world of behaviour theory and training, then saw how much Perrin and I love training, my training list suddenly became very long! I want to figure out how to train THAT, and THIS, and ooh, THAT too! I very quickly had a list of behaviours to train that was longer than my arm. And while I could still use some more focus and priorities when it comes to that list (I am very guilty of flitting from one thing to another), there have been many things that have naturally fallen to the bottom of the list.

One of the items that has fallen to the bottom of that list is skijoring. It was something I wanted to try with Perrin since he was little, so when he was the right age I bought the equipment and started desensitizing him to the harness and introducing him to pulling. He took to pulling in no time, loving both his cart in the summer and the toboggan in the winter. Here Perrin is with his home made cart:

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This winter, I felt like he understood pulling well enough to try him out on the trails. And he bombed!

When in the woods, Perrin likes to noodle about and sniff EVERYTHING. This was not terribly conducive to pulling straight ahead of me, and led to many line tangles, me falling down and much cursing. It sucked the joy out of both skiing, and being with my dog so I ultimately just let him run beside me on leash. He happily trotted beside me, but at no time did he want to line out and lead.

Many people at the ski club who skijor were saddened by my news that Perrin didn’t naturally take to skijoring (who has heard of a dog who doesn’t want to pull?!?!). “Can you train it?” They asked. I’m sure that I could! In fact, I have several half baked training plans in my head to do just that.

But you know what?

While I could train him to lead out and run ahead of me, it would take a considerable amount of time for something that is just not important to us. We have found that we both have a much better time when we ski un-attached. He can sniff around and keep up to me, I can ski unhindered and we can both enjoy our time together out in the woods. I have other things to train, and there are lots of things that Perrin actually enjoys. So we move on to other goals, while enjoying skiing together but unattached, and that is just fine with me!

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!