Friday, August 19, 2016

Chica's Very Own Dog Camp!

Chica’s Very Own Dog Camp began at 9.30am, before the heat of an unusually hot day really took hold. 

It was such a delight to see her cheery little face again, and watch her bound out of the car ready for adventures.

Our plan was to interweave training exercises with things that Chica loves to do. 

We began with a Happy Ramble  - giving Chica the chance to do what she loves best, like zooming along trails, exploring with her nose, wading in creeks and digging in soft sweet dirt after an elusive gopher.

We took off down the Decision Tree Trail and quickly came across something exciting - a large mound of bear scat! Chica was less than enthusiastic about poking around in it, and gave it a wide berth. 
 She loved exploring in the ferns and salmonberry bushes, and often all we saw of her was her tail as she ran through the undergrowth beside Helms Creek.

There were some spectacular digging moments
 Lots of opportunities for obstacle navigation
 And a particularly excellent gopher trail to excavate

Chica was in her element and the wild was certainly calling ... 
Coyote or Chica?
Back at the house we got down to some leash walking training. Chica has trouble with this for two main reasons:

1) She pulls when she is happy and excited and wants to get somewhere wonderful - wherever her wild side is called to explore. 

2) She pulls when she needs to get away from an uncomfortable or frightening situation (roads with traffic, outdoor urban environments with a lot going on, sounds that scare her.)

Both of these are emotionally/ instinctually driven problems, not so much obedience issues. When Chica is comfortable and relaxed, she walks perfectly on leash. A gentle leader helps too, when she is outside and nervous, but it doesn't address her underlying fear. 

Today we built on what we had observed about Chica when she is her element - running along a forest trail for example. Movement and  freedom to explore are big for her, much more important than treats. We also thought about her talent for tricks and entertaining people at assisted-living facilities - in other words, her love of performing or working. In such situations, treats are part of the action and she is keen to earn food rewards.  Once we had a clear sense of what motivates Chica, we could use it in her leash training exercises. 

The  first game we played was Choose to Heel and Chica was a star! She seemed to love the fun challenge that this game represented, and did really well at it.  

Exercise #1: Choose to Heel 

  • Prepare some yummy treats -   cheese, pepperoni sausage mixed with kibble to it all smells amazing!
  • Clip the leash to her flat collar, or to the front ring of a Freedom harness, Wonder Walker,  or similar harness.  
  • Hold some treats in your left hand, up by your left shoulder
  • Have Chica stand next to you on your left side
  • Bring your hand down and deliver a treat by your left knee. return your hand to shoulder position Repeat a few times
  • Take a step, deliver a treat, bring your hand up. Repeat a few times
  • Take several steps, deliver a treat while you are moving -- don't stop and wait till she sits, as this makes her think she is getting the treat for sitting. We want her to learn that she gets a treat for sticking to your side like glue!

Once Chica is clearly in the game, start mixing things up a bit. Keep changing direction, stepping sideways left and right, turning, walking or running, backing up.  Make this a game: "Can you stick with me now? How about now? And what about now?" as you move and dodge and weave.

Treat her as she is moving! Praise her in between treats and make her wag her tail with the fun of it all. Engage her herding brain - she has to keep you, the sheep, near her by sticking closely to your heels.

When she is doing well with this you can add the cue "Heel" as you move off or change direction. 

Play this game inside or outside, with or without a leash, depending on the safety of the environment and the amount of distraction present.


Exercise #2: On the Move

Next we played another game, this time one that addressed Chica's pulling due to her natural curiosity and desire to get somewhere interesting. 

It is a version of Red Light Green Light, or Penalty Yards, but in experimenting with what helped Chica the most, we found that it was important to keep moving and zigzagging towards a goal (such as the gate to a forest trail that Chica loves). This actually mirrors the movements Chica makes when she is exploring so it is more natural and less frustrating for her than just stopping or turning around each time she pulls ahead.   

Chica quickly began to get the hang of this. By keeping the leash short but loose, and turning left or right, zigzaggng or making circles, squares or U Turns  as soon as Chica began to move ahead,  we taught Chica that loose leash = go closer to her goal; tight leash = move further away from it. 

We added praise and treats to the exercise so when Chica was in position by your side, or checking in with you, she got a treat and/or praise.    

This game seemed enjoyable and effective for Chica - and she was walking beautifully by your side in no time.

The next thing we did was take a break and go visit the chickens!      

Chica was a little bit fascinated with the chickens
And the chickens were a little bit fascinated with Chica!
There were some odd birds around the garden 
The fake duck under the pear tree spooked Chica at first.
The fake heron was just plain weird
Walking on sunshine, peeing on daisies!
 That was fun, but the really cool stuff was yet to come. We took off for the river

It was beautiful and cool down by the river - a perfect morning for a paddle

 Chica showed her phenomenal herding abilities with a floating piece of wood. She did not want to let that wood get away!
 So she devised a plan that allowed her to follow it without having to swim for it. She crossed the river where it was shallow, ran down the bank and over the rocks on the other bank, and waited for it to float to her. Very clever!

Getting back over the river was a bit of a challenge - but we know how Chica loves a challenge!

 Time to go back to the house, along another forest trail, cool and shady with dappled sunlight breaking through.

Our last lesson took place in town. We drove to Yachats so we could explore how to work with Chica's fear of traffic, road noise and other urban experiences.

The problem was immediately obvious. Even though we had parked away from the highway that runs through town, Chica was trembling when we opened the car door to get her out. 

It was obvious that walking on leash was a few too many steps ahead, and we should scale our expectations back to where Chica was. Even getting out of the car wasn't fun for her, so we started with that.    

Exercise #3: Nosing Away Fear

When Chica is sniffing or moving, she is happy and not fearful. When she is performing tricks she is similarly  confident and happy. So we paired these activities with being in a new, scary-noisy place, so they gradually became less scary and more fun.   

We played Treat Tree, Hide the Treat, Treats on a Car, Toss the Treat - all games that involve hunting out delicious treats and eating them - with much praise and jollyness from us.  

At first Chica's tail was jammed between her legs but soon she began to relax and enjoy herself. We made sure we gave her frequent breaks back in the car so she could feel really safe, and then venture out again. Each time she showed less fear and more happy confidence.    
Playing Treat Tree
Moving to the next exciting  location for hunting treats 
Treats on a Railroad Tie 
Balance Walk
More Treat Tree

 Once Chica was comfortable in one area, we expanded it by moving to another tree

Next we moved across the road. Chica was afraid of a truck parked on the other side of the street. She wouldn't take treats from the tow bar, so we took it slowly, went back and forth, played with another car that was less scary and then went back to the scary truck. By then she was able to take the treats of the tow bar. Awesome Chica! How brave you are!

We practiced for about 30 minutes, in approximately 5 minute sessions, with short breaks in between.
At the end, we reviewed Chica's progress and made a plan for practicing when you are back home.

This isn't hard work, it just requires patience, awareness of the situations that scare Chica, and sensitivity to her body language.

Rather than dumping Chica in the deep end, pick a place where she might feel worried but not very scared, and play some hunting games with her as soon as she gets out of the car. Keep this  short and sweet and move on to another place when she is comfortable in the first one. Drive between locations, even if they are close together, so she can get a break in between each exercise.


Chica worked hard today, but to her (and us too) it pretty much all felt like fun! The only thing we didn't have time for was the barn hunt, but judging by her big grin, the gopher hunting probably more than sufficed!

And tomorrow we still have the Befriending Wildness Day Quest to look forward to! Sleep well tonight, Little Big Dog Chica!