I’m pretty good at training dogs to do things. Recalls. Heeling. Positions. All manner of targeting. So on, so forth. I mean, I’m just an interested amateur, right? But it’s fun. It has a lot of utility. It appeals to my vanity. I get the job done.
I’m a lot less good at training dogs to just hang out. That has a lot of utility, too! More than heeling, that’s for sure. I know in my brain that being able to chill is an important life skill for a dog to have.
And we do train it.
To the extent that makes everyday life liveable.
And then we kind of…stop.
Oh, Lilo’s mat has come along to backyard barbecues and horse shows (that I was not riding at; I have a strict one-animal-at-a-time rule at events involving horses). But I’m more of a go-do-stuff person than I am a just-hang-out person. That is, I just-hang-out a lot in my own space (or in my partner’s). I read books; I play video and board games; I watch the occasional movie or three episodes of a tv show that I swear I will finish and then never get around to. At home, my dogs have or develop pretty functional off-switches.
But away is another story. Away, I’ve been lazy about, because go-somewhere-and-just-hang-out is not my natural inclination and because it hasn’t been super-essential. Which is how I discovered this weekend that I have really good hiking dogs who need a little more work to be really good camp dogs.
You see, this weekend R. and the dogs and I headed to Vermont. Some friends were doing trail magic at a lovely shady riverside spot where the Appalachian and Long Trails cross route 103. Breakfast foods to start and then burgers and hot dogs on the grill and then a for-real clam boil. Chips and cookies and candy. Gatorade and beer. Our particular contribution consisted of fresh fruit and Oreos. It was a perfect way to spend a perfect afternoon; I can’t wait to do it again.
The dogs were mostly really good! They were reasonably social and overall attentive and Lilo in particular was content to chill at my side intermittently reinforced.
But she was more reactive to dogs passing through than I had expected. She’s gotten so good at meeting dogs on trail that it had — foolishly — not occurred to me that old habits might resurface in this different scenario, with new stressors in the form of new-to-her people coming and going and without the job of going down trail to focus her.
And Titus — was kind of a rockstar, actually. In between rolling in gross stuff (and promptly washed off, BUT STILL) and serenading the clam-boil crowd with his ear-piercing “YIPE YIPE!” when his quarter ran out. (I gave him a minute to see if he could settle himself down and then intervened, because I did not wish for him to be distressed or for myself to be murdered by folks trying to preserve their hearing.)
R. pointed out that I have higher standards for the dogs than anybody else does. And everybody was super-sweet about and complimentary of them (and I like nothing more than people complimenting my dogs!). And as above: they were mostly really good! I’m super proud of them for walking into a situation that’s so different than their everyday life and handling it, on the whole, really well. And now I have some motivation to, y’know, actually practice this set of skills that has suddenly become so much more relevant.
I like that about training. I like it a lot.