Kayaking with your dog: Getting started

Milo the AwesomeDog and I both love the water, so we should both love kayaking. Right? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

Baby steps are usually the best way to introduce Milo to something new. Here’s our step-by-step approach to kayaking.

Step one: Get boat and safety equipment

my boat and I

Buying something rarely makes me so happy!

Step two: Go boating without the puppy

 

Boating with humans is fun too. Although more than half of these humans have German Shepherd Dogs in their lives.

Step three: Let Milo get used to the boat

I let him hang out with the boat until it became less interesting to him than his toys.

Step four: Use pool noodles to make an extended dog deck and add a non-slip mat

Milo has an easier time relaxing when he isn’t sitting on something slippery. I definitely want him to chill out when he’s in the boat. 

Step five: Let Milo get used to his life jacket

add dog's pfd

This didn’t take long. Milo never seems to mind his various vests and harnesses.

Step six: Put it all together on dry land

the whole package in the yard

 

Step seven: Find some quiet, clean, shallow water and give this a try.

I won’t have any pictures of this last step because we are going to get wet. It looks like there might be thunderstorms tomorrow so we might have to wait two entire days before we try this out for real. That seems like a very long time.

Wish us luck!

You’re never (really) finished training your dog

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at camera

My neighbours, bless their hearts, take a keen interest in Milo and my wellbeing. They see me load him into my vehicle every Sunday afternoon on our way to some sort of dog class and often ask when we’ll be finished with the training.

What they don’t know is that asking me when I’ll be finished training Milo is sort of like asking an athlete when they’ll stop needing a coach.

Milo and I will always to go school because:

  1. He and I can always improve our performance. We can get faster and more precise.
  2. I can use all the coaching I can get. In class, the instructor sees things I don’t see. Sometimes I get in a rut with my instructions and Milo starts to anticipate our next move. Sometimes I reward him a bit late or a bit early. Sometimes I don’t keep my shoulders square and that pushes him out of heel position. A good instructor catches things I miss.
  3. Obedience classes give Milo practice being around new people and new dogs in a safe, structured environment. Some people have this weird idea that a well-socialized dog runs off to play with every creature they encounter. This is wrong and dangerous. Not all people and not all dogs want strange dogs to charge forward for a meet and greet. A well-socialized dog can stay calm, happy, and attentive in a wide range of situations. This is particularly important for dogs like German Shepherds who tend to be territorial and to bond with only one or a few people. For dogs like these, socialization is not like riding a bike, it is more like playing the piano–they have to practice.

Milo and I both enjoy learning new things. I’d rather take Milo to a training class than go to a movie and Milo loves using that big brain of his.

black and tan smiling german shepherd in front of a grey sky and a grey lake.

Curious puppies want to learn all the things.

Training Tuesday: Vacations and the Hidden Curriculum​

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraAs a philosophy professor (my day job) I spend a lot of time thinking about the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum includes things that get taught and learned, without anyone intending to teach or learn them.

For example, if I asked you to name a bunch of philosophers, you might mention Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, or Locke. It just so happens that all of these philosophers are white guys.

Sadly, it is not hard to find philosophy classes that only cover things that white guys wrote. In these classes, the explicit curriculum, which the professor intends to teach, concerns the ideas of great philosophers like Aristotle and the other guys on the list.

But we need to be careful about what the hidden curriculum is saying. It would be a shame if the students ended up learning that philosophers are white guys (which might be happening since white guys comprise the vast majority of philosophy majors).  No one intends to teach this, but most teaching and learning is not intentional.

Why am I talking about the hidden curriculum on a “Training Tuesday” post while Milo and I are on vacation?

Because there is lots of overlap between teaching people and training dogs. I kid you not, working with Milo has made me a much better professor. In this case, though, it is the other way around, thinking about teaching humans and the hidden curriculum is making me a better dog guardian.

Dogs and people are learning all the time. Just because a student doesn’t sit down to learn that philosophers are white guys in the same way that they sit down to learn that Aristotle lived between 384-322 BCE, doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up both messages. They don’t stop encoding memories at the end of each lecture.

Imagine using punitive methods to train a dog to sit. The explicit curriculum is about teaching the dog to sit when it’s told to do so. The hidden curriculum teaches the dog that mistakes are dangerous, that the handler is not a friend, and that the world is scary and capricious.

On the other hand, training the same behavior using positive methods, exemplifies a very different hidden curriculum. Dogs trained in this way learn that it is good to try new things and that working with their handler is not only safe but is more like play than like work.

Just because Milo and I are on vacation (and I forgot a bunch of our training equipment at home), it doesn’t mean that he isn’t going to learn anything on this trip. In other words, there is a hidden curriculum embedded in our relationship and Milo is learning that curriculum even when we are not formally training.

There are some things I do not want him to learn on this trip. For example, I don’t want him to learn to ignore my recall when we are on the shore of a beautiful big lake, and I don’t want him to learn to grab a hotdog when I am toasting it over the fire (you know how this one got on the list…).

There are also lots of things I do want him to learn, even though they are not in any training plan. I want him to learn that he and I can have delightful adventures together, that there are lots of happy, friendly people in the world, and that no matter what we’re doing or where we are, I’ve got his back.

Milo doesn’t stop learning just because I stop training.

black and tan German shepherd standing in clear water and holding a large stick

Milo has already learned that Lake Huron has an abundance of excellent sticks.

Training Tuesdays: Tracking around corners and heeling in the front yard

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at camera

Last week I strengthened my resolve to treat Milo like the smart and accomplished fellow that he is, which is a challenge because he will always be my fuzzy-pants, darling baby.

But, I managed to set the bar high and he leaped right over it (mostly).

Tracking. I worked him on tracks that were about 200-paces long with two corners and two articles. Milo the AwesomeDog earned his name on the corners–he corners like he’s on rails! I was so proud of him.

We stumbled a little bit over rewards on the track though. I drop kibble on the track every 5 to 10 steps. On the 10-step intervals, Milo tended to swerve off the track and sniff around. I suspect he was concerned that he missed a piece of kibble–his combination of intelligence and gluttony led to an occasional screwball performance.

When he did this I stood still and let him work. He always got back on track. I contemplated correcting him because we have a ‘no personal sniffing’ rule, which he might have been breaking. But I held off to give him a chance to figure this out on his own.  Milo takes joy in sniffing. I want to be the person who helps him flourish as a sniffer, not the person who scolds him for sniffing poorly.

german shepherd dog on a brown lawn walking around a corner with his nose on the ground

My friend Jess caught this pic of Milo on a corner.
I’m at the other end of that yellow leash.


Focused heeling. Why should Milo’s middle name be Heisenberg? Because by observing him in heel position I knock him out of heel position. Hahahahahaha.

Ok, so the joke isn’t funny. And gets the quantum mechanics wrong. Everyone’s a critic. Whatever.

Here’s the deal. In the house, Milo sits in perfect heel position. Anywhere else he sits about six inches too far away and at a weird angle, and he tends to glance away at butterflies and buzzing bees. In those distracting situations, I have to pay close attention and reward him like crazy when he gets it exactly right.

But, for me to know if he is getting it exactly right I have to look at him. And when I twist my body so that I can see him, I push him out of position. By observing him, I move him out of the position I want to observe him in. (You’re welcome. Jokes are always so much funnier when you explain them.)

Luckily I’m resourceful enough to work around the AwesomeDog Uncertainty Principle (eat your heart out quantum mechanics). I bought a few big cheap mirrors that I can use to observe Milo without compromising my own position. By leaning a mirror against my house, another against a tree, and a third against my car, I can observe Milo and reward him when he’s got it exactly right. Yes, it looks bizarre, but Milo is doing really well and that’s what matters.

Just a quick update on our two other goals. We’ve been attending Rally class, which is fine, and working on Milo’s attitude toward nail trims, which is still going slowly. I’ll have more to say about these projects in later posts.

Our goals for this week are simple: more of the same.

Cheers!

The gift of attention, love, and trimming Milo the AwesomeDog’s nails

black and tan German Shepherd with happy expression on his faceThe gift of your undivided attention is one of the simplest, although not one of the easiest, ways to show that someone you care about them. We’ve all had those conversations, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, during which we’re 100% engaged with another person. These conversations build relationships. Two people become one. Time stops. Or flies. Attention can be an expression of respect and an expression of love.

Marilyn Frye is one of my favorite philosophers. In her book, The Politics of Reality, she cautions us to take responsibility for what we pay attention to and what we ignore. She reminds us that “attend,” and its opposite, “ignore,” are verbs. They’re action words. We are responsible for our actions.

I’m grateful to Frye for reminding me that I need to be responsible for what I pay attention to because it is easy to switch over to automatic pilot, let myself get distracted, and only attend to things that get right up in my face.

Milo the AwesomeDog does not like manicures. I used to deal with this by grabbing his paw, telling him not to be a baby, and trimming his nails as quickly as I could. This is less than ideal, and so I’m working on a counter-conditioning regime where I break the nail trim process down into baby steps and use rewards to help Milo build a positive association with each step.

He has to be OK with one step before I move onto the next, and this forced me to pay attention to him in a new way. Instead of zeroing in on his paw, I had to back up and look at all of his body language to gauge how he was feeling.

I learned something that made my heart swell. I thought I had maximal love for him, and it turned out I was wrong. You see, Milo doesn’t dislike manicures. He hates them. He presents a classic picture of a stressed dog—probably the same level of stress that I feel looking forward to and enduring a long and painful dental procedure. But even so, he submitted to those nail trims because I asked him to. It was something very difficult that he did for me, every week. And it never even occurred to me to be grateful.

I would not have noticed this if I didn’t back up and give his whole self my undivided attention.

Milo is the epitome of a fine hound.

Training Tuesdays: April 24, 2018, Milo needs a challenge

Hi fans! This is a short post because it’s grading season, and I’m up to my eyebrows with student work from my Philosophy 271: Animals in our Lives and Philosophy 458/673: Feminism, Bodies and Biology classes. I had the pleasure of working with two groups of fabulous students and so the grading is not that bad. But, holy smokes, is there ever a lot of it.

I had an epiphany this week—I’ve been treating Milo like a baby and he’s bored. I was so focused on splitting his training tasks into tiny pieces that I was slowing him down and frustrating him.

I had this epiphany because my friend Liz said, “Carla, you need to give him more difficult things to do.” Does it count as an epiphany if someone straight out tells you something? Probably not technically, but this week had an ‘epiphany-feel’ about it.

After that fateful conversation with Liz, I gave Milo long tracks with multiple articles—he did a great job. No more waiting for him to find an exact heel position. I simply demanded it and he stepped right up and met my higher expectations. And in Rally class, which we just started, I demanded serious attention, which he gave me.

Note to self: “Do what Liz says more often.”

So, this week the plan is to do more of those things: long tracks, precision in heeling, and focused attention even in a distracting Rally class. I am feeling hopeful.

You might remember that I’ve also been working on getting Milo to tolerate a manicure. In the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that Milo deeply despises have his nails trimmed. So, I’m keeping us on a baby steps schedule for this counter-conditioning procedure–tiny steps and lots of hotdogs.

Next week I’ll fill you in on our progress. Cheers!

Black and tan German Shepherd sniffing brown grass

Milo has what you call a “deep nose” when he tracks and that is a good thing.


 

Training Tuesday: April​ 17, 2018

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraThe theme for this week’s training plan is “When the ice melts.” Mother Nature dropped a few centimeters of slush on us last week, which is now frozen solid. Living on a curling rink has put a little hitch in Milo and my training giddy-up. But, this too shall pass. Here’s my weekly report:

Last week’s plan:
• Practice indicating articles in the house
• Do a few steps of focused heeling
• Do some counter conditioning for handling Milo’s paws to make nail grinding easier.

What we did:

I had to rejigger my plan on Thursday because the article indication and heeling went faster than I expected.

Article indication
After one day he responded to an article, in every room in the house, like this:

I think we’re ready for the track.

The focused heeling was fine. I added some more steps.

Paw handling was our biggest challenge.
• The trouble is that I started out using cheese as a reward. When Milo smells cheese, he goes into hyperactive, happy overdrive, which is not the frame of mind I want him to be in for nail trims. I want him happy, relaxed, and still. We switched from cheese to kibble on Thursday, and things went much better.

This coming week’s the plan is:
• Mix up 5, 10, 15, and 20 steps of focused heeling on low-distraction parts of our walks. We’ll move to a field when the ice melts.
• Tracking is on hold until the ice melts. When we start up again we’ll practice on a 100 step track with one right turn, one article on the track, and one article at the end of the track.
• Add touching the (turned off) grinder to each of his nails with lots of reinforcement.
• Keep doing a couple of Rally signs on our walks.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s training report!