Happy New Year! I have a lot of dog-related goals for the coming year—I’d like to get really Cholula playing ball! And able to hold a tug toy as she walks down the street! And I’d like to know that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, if I call, Cholula will come! And I would like to take good care of aging Pundit and never ever step on his sore, arthritic feet no matter how in the way he is! And I’d maybe even like to get another dog! But when I start thinking about when, realistically, am I going to make time for all of these goals, I get anxious, and fretful, and I know that’s never helpful when it comes to working with a dog.
So for January, at least, I’m stepping away from these end-point oriented goals. When I think about Cholula’s progress over the past year, amidst the limited effort I managed to put into training her, this is what I come up with: once or twice a week, on average, I worked with her on speak on command. This was the primary suggestion of my master dog trainer, Kevin Behan (www.naturaldogtraining.com) Cholula and I made some progress, as you can see in my recent post, Cholula Shows Her Speak; you can also see in my recent post that her bark is still not perfect.
The bark training led to some direct effects last year–first of all, finally, she (sort of) barks on command. Second, when we are out on a walk now and I see her getting stressed about another dog on a leash I can often get her to release the stress in a resounding bark and continue our walk in peace (this in fact was the main goal of the speaking on command and so this is something I am happy about indeed). But the biggest change that has happened with Cholula over the past few months is something seemingly unrelated to her speaking on command—it’s how she walks in the woods.
There is a triangular stretch of woods near our house with paths running through it; bordered on all sides by a neighborhood or a road, so it has clear boundaries. My husband often takes the dogs walking there on weekend mornings and lets them off leash; I take them there less often. Cholula often would bound off into the woods like a leaping deer, returning onlly when she was ready. We stopped bothering to call her because, really, there was no point to it. At least half of the time he went to the woods with her, my husband would come back irritated that Cholula had disappeared and he’d had to wait for her. I’d had the same experience, so I knew how irritating it could be.
But recently, my husband starting coming back from every walk to the woods in a good mood. He started saying things I’d thought I might never hear, things like “Cholula and I had such a nice walk this morning.” Over the holidays, I had the chance to take the dogs to the woods a number of times, and I saw what he was talking about. Cholula still bounds off, darting down the ravine or up the hill after squirrels she (cross fingers) never catches, but she circles back. In a loose, relaxed spirit, her forays down or off the path now seem to naturally lead her right back to us, so that when we want to put the leash on and head for home, she is there, panting, wagging, happy, and ready to go with us.
How did this transformation occur? I think it’s a side effect of the bark training. I think that what Kevin Behan sometimes calls the “softening” of the problem dog through things like bark training has softened Cholula’s huntress spirit so that while she still loves to hunt, she is less driven to forsake us. Sang Koh has also written about how when you focus on Natural Dog Training’s basics, a lot of problem behaviors that don’t seem directly related to the basic NDT exercises of pushing, barking on command, and tugging nevertheless melt away.
I’m going to keep up the bark training as I have been, mostly on the weekends. But my resolution for January is to go back to another one of Natural Dog Training’s basic practices, and push with Cholula. Every day in January, five minutes a day, push with her for food. Just to do it. Just to see.
I know that with my family’s schedule, this means that there will be days when I’m out pushing with her at 10:30 at night. But if I can’t find the time earlier in the day, I think I can commit to giving her 10:30 to 10:35 every day of this cold, quiet month. Does anyone else want to commit with me? Cholula and I would love the company, and I would love to hear in comments how it goes.
I’m going to try to post a video of me and Cholula pushing in the next few days, but until I can convince my videographer (aka 6-year-old daughter) to work with me, here is a good description of the practice from Lee Charles Kelley: Please join me and Happy New Year to you all!