Rally Obedience: E​ngagement and trust

Milo and I just earned a score of 96 / 100 at the mock trial that was the final exam in our advanced Rally Obedience class.

I wish Milo the AwesomeDog could read because this post is all about thanking him for being such a wonderful partner.

attentionMilo was super engaged during the trial. This means that he was paying attention to me with laser focus. He was not asking, but demanding, that I give him a job to do and he put his whole self into doing what I wanted. He didn’t just walk, he pranced. He didn’t just jump, he leaped. He was beautiful, and we were a team.

One of my classmates praised him for being so “sharp.” She said, “his eyes are always on you, even when you’re talking to someone else.” I don’t think she realized how grand, and complicated, this compliment was.

It is not just his nature to pay attention like this. He and I worked through some difficult things together, and we developed a solid relationship. We both know that we have each other’s backs and that the world is better and safer when we’re a team.

Also, we practice engagement almost every day. We spend more time training this than anything else. I say “look,” he looks me in the eye, and I give him a treat or a game of tug or a cuddle. We do this before breakfast, on walks, when we go to new places, and when we’re watching TV at night. You can train a dog to pay attention to you. When you have that under your belt, everything else gets easier.

When Milo is engaged it is a big deal–he’s 90 pounds of muscle and smart as a whip. It’s a big deal because he’s trusting me and putting all of his brains and brawn at my service. That trust and willingness to work for me with his whole magnificent self is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.

Thank you, Milo.

 

Who’s got four paws and a CKC Novice Rally Obedience Title?

THIS GUY!

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We arrived early and got a good spot in the corner. This is where we hung out between runs, and where Milo rested while I walked the courses and chatted with the other hoomins.

boy's home

Milo, chilling out between runs.

 

Can you believe that he earned all this bling? I might have to make a quilt or something.bling c

 

And here is my angel from heaven barely resisting tearing off this his ribbons.

bling a

I am very proud of my boy! ❤

 

Fitness and flourishing: The benefits of attending to your dog’s mental health

They say that a tired dog is a good dog and, generally, they’re right. This is a little bit concerning because although this summer with its camping and hiking and swimming has been good for both of us, Milo is getting physically fitter than I am. Each day the gap between what I can do to tire him out and what it takes to tire him out gets a little bit wider.

tired dog

Milo and I have been camping for 11 weeks now. He started out strong and is getting stronger–swimming more days than not, playing a vigorous game of fetch on most days, and hiking almost every day. He’s a great big muscle with outstanding endurance.

I’m sure I’m much fitter now than I was at the beginning of this trip too. First of all, Milo never hikes alone. Many hikes have the word “lookout” in their name. I guess people like a view, and you need high ground for that sort of thing. So, lots of this summer’s hikes involved an uphill trek. I grew up in a part of Canada that’s so flat that people say you can watch your dog run away for three days. As a result, whenever I put on any vertical metres it feels like a serious (and somewhat exotic) workout. It seems like I’ve been walking uphill all summer, and I’ve noticed that it takes more to get me huffing and puffing than it used to.

German shepherd sitting on a rock looking out over a deep blue bay

Milo at Lookout Point.

There are other ways my daily activity has increased. For one thing, Milo and I travelled across the country which means I’ve hitched and unhitched my trailer many many times. Setting up the trailer involves deploying five, yes five, jacks, and none of them is electric. I’m getting some serious pipes.

Playing with Milo provides a good workout as well. When we play tug, there are times when I am yanking on my end of the toy as hard as I can. He is strong enough to pull me over, and I have to pull back. It is fun and exhausting and we’ve been doing lots of it this summer.

Except for my Fitbit saying that my resting heart rate is nine beats a minute lower than it was at the beginning of the trip, I don’t have a way to measure my increased fitness. But I know I feel good, and that is better than numbers.

However, even though I feel great, I get tired before Milo does, every single time we play or hike or swim. We are often a tired person and a slightly winded dog duo. This has not turned out to be a problem though because although it is true that a tired dog is a good dog, a mentally fit dog is a good dog too.

I’ve been thinking about physical fitness in terms of how much exercise it takes to make me and Milo tired, but fitness also includes mental fitness, or psychological well-being, or mental health, or whatever you want to call it. This summer our mental fitness has been improving in step with our physical fitness, and that helps him be a good dog and helps me be a good person.

 

German Shepherd laying on a grey rock.

Milo’s the good dog.

 

In addition to getting more exercise, we’ve been eating good food, spending time in nature, enjoying long hours of restful sleep, and experiencing very little stress. Milo has a guardian who is more centred, and I have a dog who is calmer. It seems like neither of us is sweating the small stuff as much as we used to.

For example, the last people who used the campsite we’re in right now left a week’s worth of stinky trash and recycling in the fire pit. That is the sort of thing that used to make me fume. But this time I just thought “some people make it easier to leave the place better than I found it than others.” It only took about 90 seconds to clean it up, and now I’m enjoying a campfire. Milo is laying on the ground beside the picnic table I’m using as a desk.  He’s keeping tabs on the neighbours, and paying attention to dogs walking by in a way that’s alert but relaxed. In other words, he’s being a German Shepherd Dog.

It’s not that he’s too tired to get in trouble, it’s that he is physically and mentally fit. His needs are being met and his life is full enough for him to enjoy being good–good in the sense of being well behaved, and good in the sense of flourishing.

This trip with Milo has helped make my life full enough to enjoy being good too!

Another shot at Rally Obedience

start signAfter our last, which would have been our first, Rally trial was cancelled, I realised that I stopped posting about Milo and my training. We still train every day. But, without a goal, it ‘s hard to be systematic about it. I was disappointed by the cancellation because Milo and I put alot of time and energy into getting ready for that event.

I am happy to say that Milo and I are back on track and will make our debut at the Red Barn Event Centre, which is hosting an All-Breed Candian Kennel Club Rally Obedience Trial on October 8, 2017.

Update: Milo and my first Rally Obedience Trial was cancelled

Thank you for your good wishes and support. I was notified a couple of days ago that this whole trial was cancelled. This cancellation is a significant bummer because I really wanted to trial in Saskatoon and I planned much of my summer travel around this event.

I have to remind myself that the travel has been, and continues to be, wonderful and that there will be many more opportunities for Milo and I to strut our stuff in the ring.

I’m looking at Canuckdogs.com for another Rally event for us to enter.

Found distractions: Proofing for our upcoming Rally Obedience Trial

Milo and my first Rally Obedience Trial is fast approaching. We’ve been training daily and can do all the exercises with cheerful and brisk focus. Our biggest challenge will be distractions around the ring during the trial.

German shepherd dog heeling beside a woman in blue jeans between a coop full of chickens and another dogLuckily the universe provided us with an outstanding set of distractions for practice. And by ‘the universe,’ I mean my brother and sister-in-law’s farm. Milo has a strong prey drive and a history of dog reactivity. So, we spent a week performing Rally exercises using Louis the Dog an obstacle and the chicken coop as a backdrop. By the end of the week, Milo could heel around the dog while the chickens were flapping and clucking toward their dinner.  Good boy!

Of course, something could still knock us off our game during the trial, but it is good to know that we worked hard and did our best to be ready.

German shepherd dog jumping in the air to catch a treat. He is almost vertical and is taller than the jeans wearing woman holding his leash

Milo’s reward for all that work was to jump for a piece of chicken…

Training outcomes July 25 – August 2: We know the novice rally signs

Milo and I spent the last week heeling through figure eights, and weaves, and spirals. I am happy to report that we can do all the Novice Rally exercises and I can read all the signs.

The biggest challenges for me will be keeping track of our left and right turns (I’m not joking) and remembering to speed up when Milo starts to lag. This feels backwards. When Milo starts to slow down my tendency is to slow down as well and tell him to hustle up. But, he catches up more quickly if I ignore him and walk faster.

I’ve heard people give different reasons for why this works. Some say

  • that it adds more forward energy to the exercise,
  • that the dog doesn’t want to be left behind,
  • that it makes the exercise more interesting for the dog, or
  • that the dog imitates the handler.

All that I know is that if I slow down, he slows down even more, and that if I surge ahead, he’ll break into a trot to keep up. It’s a case of do as I do, not as I say.

I wish I had video of me and Milo. In my imagination we look like this team when we go through a serpentine weave: