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

On the Road with Milo documents my sometimes-literal journey to understand how people and dogs can live well together. I’m learning from philosophical and scientific research on human-canine relationships; expert dog trainers, breeders, and handlers; and my own relationship with Milo the AwesomeDog.

Milo and I are companions. We train and compete in obedience and some dog sports. And we spend as much of our summers as we can camping in Canada’s national and provincial parks. My posts on this blog range from critiques of scientific papers to reviews of campgrounds, but in one way or another, they’re all about the relationship that Milo and I share, and hence about the relationship between humans and dogs.

Training is all about relationship—attention, communication, friendship, and teamwork. This spring and summer, my goal is to train with Milo more systematically. To document our progress, hold myself accountable, and regularly remind myself that the point of the training is to develop my relationship with Milo, I’ll post weekly updates about what I’m planning and how we’re doing. These will be my “Training Tuesdays” posts.

On Training Tuesdays, I’ll report what we did during the previous week, plan what we’ll do the next week, and muse about things that went well or poorly.

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraMilo’s puppy kindergarten graduation photo


 

This week’s plan

I’ve already decided that this summer we’ll work on Rally Obedience, and train for Schutzhund obedience and tracking titles. I’m adding a “Living well” category for things Milo and I can learn that will make our lives easier and more fun. This could include tricks, house manners, and things like handing for grooming and veterinary procedures.

Rally

  • Nothing formal yet
  • We’ll just practice a sign or two on our walks

Tracking

  • Article indication off the track (2 minutes a day)

Obedience

  • Between 2 and 15 steps of focused heeling with giant rewards (5 minutes a day)

Living well

  • Paw handling with very high reward rates (2 minutes a day)

Glossary

Article indication. Milo and I will be doing Schutzhund-style tracking. In these tests, he needs to tell me when he finds articles dropped along the track by laying down with his front paws on either side of an article. I’ll teach him this in the living room. When he’s got it, we’ll take it outdoors onto a track.

Paw handling. Milo does not like getting his nails trimmed. I can wrestle him through a manicure, but I would rather not. It stresses us both out and is detrimental to our relationship. So, we’ll do some counter-conditioning to teach him that it is a good thing when I grind down his nails. All I’m going to do this week is call him to his paw trimming spot and ask him to give me a paw (he already is happy to do these two things). Then, I’ll hold his paw in the same way I would when grinding down his nails and give him a treat. That’s all. Easy-peasy. The trick is yummy treats and tiny little baby steps.

Start Planning Your Summer 2018 Camping: Reviews of Ontario Provincial Parks

I spent last summer camping with an 18-foot trailer and a 90-pound German Shepherd Dog named Milo. Looking out at the mounds of snow in my backyard, I’m longing for some summer camping. And since you can reserve campsites in Ontario Provincial Parks five months in advance, it is time to start booking sites. I want to return to the best Ontario provincial parks for camping that I visited last summer.

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As I was scrolling through last summer’s blog posts, I realized that I was happy in every single place, even the ones that were less than perfect. I’m mostly just happy to be camping. But some places were nicer than others and so here are my reviews of the Ontario provincial park campgrounds that I stayed in last summer:

Aaron Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Balsam Lake Provincial Park: A good place for human contact (no ghosts)
Lots of sites (not all of them but lots of them) at Balsam Lake are just parking places in a big field. If you want to stay here, book early and look closely at the pictures of your potential campsite to make sure it is a place you really want to be.

Caliper Lake Provincial Park: Needs hobbits
Caliper Lake Provincial Park: Quick notes on the campground

Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
I was leery when I arrived because my site was in a campground called “Trailer,” but it was gorgeous, so don’t be put off by the name.
Swan Lake Trail (at Grundy)

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park: Great for people, stinky for dogs

Killbear Provincial Park
Lookout Point Trail at Killbear Provincial Park
The off-leash dog beach is fabulous at Killbear

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Beautiful sunsets over Lake Huron
MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Yurts and how to say “Hi” to Milo

Mississagi Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada: Here be dragons
When I was at Mississagi, it was wild and empty. 😀

The Beach at Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
Pancake Bay has a super dog beach.

Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada 

White Lake Provincial Park, Ontario: Home away from home

Happy Camping Friends!

Reentry after an extended​ RV trip: Do turtles get homesick?

At 22 I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and itching to see the world. I needed to get off the Canadian Prairies, away from Saskatoon where I was going to school, and escape any and all things related to farming. So, I bought a good pair of shoes, a backpack, and a plane ticket and was off to eat my way across Europe.

chocolate-croissant-illyI devoured curry and toured the Tower of London, nibbled Pain au Chocolat after climbing the Eiffel Tower, picnicked with a grey-eyed man on the Piazza San Marco and then we strolled arm in arm along Venice’s canals. I gorged on goulash and spaetzle before retiring to Budapest’s Roman Baths, snacked on Sachertorte after seeing The Magic Flute at the Vienna Volksoper, and drank beer under Munich’s Glockenspiel. And, I wallowed in homesickness as powerful as it was unexpected. I would never have predicted that the best part of that trip would be returning home.

Johannes Hofer combined the Greek words for homeward journey, ‘nostos,’ and ache, ‘algos,’ to give us ‘nostalgia,’ which originally meant, quite literally, ‘homesickness.’ He coined the term to describe an illness rampant among Swiss mercenary soldiers in France who were incapacitated by a melancholic yearning for their mountain homes.

My travels always ended with nostalgia, until now.

If it weren’t for the brutal facts that winter is coming, and that I need to, eventually, show up at work to get money for gas, beer, groceries, and campground fees, I would have happily kept on trucking. Not for a single second did I ache for home.

Milo and I in our travel trailer—like turtles, our home was always with us. And I realized that, for me, home is where the puppy is.

Black and tan german shepherd laying at an open door

Dump Station Diaries

I understand the urge to squeeze every possible moment out of a weekend camping. Lots of families roll into a campground on Friday night and check out at the last possible minute on Sunday.

That’s a lot of people leaving at the same time. The last stop for most RVers before heading home is the park dump station, which means that around checkout time on Sunday there is always, always, a line. If there are ten RV’s in front of you, you’ll be hanging out, at the sewer, for an hour waiting your turn.

There’s a difference between knowing something and really knowing something. You really know about the campground sewer bottleneck once you’ve been stuck in it. The last time I was in a bathroom line this long was when I went to see The Who.

a curved driveway in a field of green grass and pine trees, with three white travel trailers hooked up to family trucks.

You can’t see the whole line because it is curved, it is longer than it looks here, my truck is the blue one pulling the Sportsmen.


For me it wasn’t actually that bad –I just gave Milo a chew toy, pulled out a book, and put on some music. There weren’t any fires I needed to put out.

But, some of those vehicles were full of tired families. That had to be a long, long wait for those parents of colicky babies and sunburned kids who wouldn’t stay on their side of the bench seat and whose bladders were filling up as the minutes ticked by.

So, here’s a piece of advice. If check out time is 11 AM, don’t show up at the dump station between 10 and noon on a Sunday. While you have to be out of your campsite by 11, you can stay in the park all day. Why not leave the site and have a picnic lunch before hitting the dump station?

I don’t really care about the line, this is just some friendly advice for families. I could see the will to live gradually seep out of parents as they waited to deal with their kids’ sewage, for the second time, and that is no way to end a camping trip.

 

 

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Yurts and how to say “Hi” to Milo

The two women were striding through the campground, their walking sticks swinging. When Milo caught their eye they wheeled around to say hello. “Here we go,” I thought as I prepared myself to, as politely as I could, keep them at bay. So many, too many, people feel entitled to walk right up and pet Milo, and he is not cool with that sort of direct approach. But to my pleasant surprise, these women knew exactly how to charm my boy: ignore him entirely and chat with me.

The short one said, “I’m Teresa. You can remember that because everyone knows Mother Teresa. Although,” she chuckled, “I am no mother.”

And the tall one swept a hand out to the side, “I’m Helen,” and sweeping it back to her chest continued, “Helen of Troy.”

I guess they’d been tent camping together every summer for forever but being in their 70’s tents were not as comfortable as they once were. So, Teresa and Helen were spending the week in one of MacGregor Point Provincial Park’s yurts.

They invited Milo and me to check out the wonders of yurt living. Their yurt was clean and spacious with comfortable beds, electricity, and a heater. It also had a covered deck and a propane barbeque, a good one. The place was nice enough to keep even a picky neatnik happy.

good lightI had Milo in a sit-stay while we chatted and they told me they would be happy to meet him if they could. So, I invited Milo to say hello. By this time he was feeling left out, and he immediately walked up and sniffed their pant legs while they continued to ignore him. When he started poking at their hands with his gigantic nose they gave him a nice chin rub and thanked him for being such a good dog. Well, that got him prancing around with smiles and doggy wiggles, and after that, they were all good friends. For the rest of the week, whenever Milo caught sight or scent of Teresa or Helen, his ears perked up, and he insisted that we go over and say hello.

Milo gets to choose who he greets. If you want him to choose you, you have to play it cool and let him make the first move. If you play your cards right, you just might end up with a first-rate doggy friend!

 

MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Beautiful sunsets​ over Lake Huron

Milo and I spent a week at MacGregor Point Provincial Park. It was the last stop of our trip.

setting sun over lake huron

Some quick facts:

  • The campgrounds are about as close to perfect as I’ve seen on this trip with sites carved into shady little nooks and crannies in the forest.
  • The park store is well stocked and sells ice cream—I can report that mint chocolate chip, black cherry, and vanilla praline are all tasty.
  • MacGregor has excellent hiking paths through the forest and along the shore of Lake Huron.
  • The evening views at Sunset Point are spectacular. Milo and I walked there every night.

sunset silouette