Thursday, September 7, 2023

You don't know what you don't know

Back in May, the Chaos Goblin and I embarked on a self-inflicted summer training challenge inspired by my friends at the Good Dog Center in Decorah, Iowa. Those fine folks up north embraced the challenge of documenting training sessions with their dogs in 50 new places by the end of September. Trainers who successfully complete the challenge receive a free obedience class at the GDC. You’d better believe if I lived closer, I’d have been all over it because they have excellent instructors. But the trek to the land of rosemaling and Norwegian culture is a bit much to drive weekly, even by my "On the road again" lifestyle (cue Willie Nelson, you're welcome for the ear worm), so I decided Raider and I would craft the east central Iowa version.

In the event you don’t know what rosemaling is, here’s an example from the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah. It has nothing to do with dog training but it's pretty.

My goal was to get my butt off the couch and train in two new places each week, from the first weekend in May through Labor Day. That would equal 34 new sites in addition to training at home and other familiar places. There was no free class waiting at the end of the rainbow but exposing my dog to working in 34 new sites would help Team Chaos Goblin tremendously going into the fall shows.

It’s so easy to train at home and call it good. You know that. I know that. We go out in the back yard and go through the motions and call it a training session when all we really did was give our dogs treats for not having to think very hard because it’s the back yard. Ouch. That stings. Guilty.

I’d like to think my backyard is a bit more demanding than most, since it includes beef cattle, tractors, farmers and dog-proof farm cats who love to be in the middle of everything. I could open a Rent-A-Cat business. Cats available in varying nuisance levels.

Gryffindor and Raider - not sure what they're doing but one of them is doing it wrong.

If you’re tired of saying, “Here, take my money” to show superintendents while your dog laughs hysterically at the concept of qualifying consistently, you understand the power of training in new places. Imparting the wisdom to your dog that he is expected to Do All The Things, no matter where he is, is priceless. It's a dandy way to find out you don't know what you don't know in a hurry.

So off we went.

We went to the park where Raid nearly dislocated my shoulder when he decided “Get it” applied equally to dumbbells and rabbits. It did not. 

To the museum lawn I swear was full of ghosts because Raid spent a lot of time looking at Things That Were Not There. Or maybe they were. 

To parking lots. I am happy to report neither of us got run over but we did get stared at a lot.

Because nothing beats working figure 8s around a giant springy duck head.

To parks, where we damn near got run over by a renegade deer who bolted right through the middle of things like that was the ONLY way to get where it was going. Raid held his stay until he didn’t and a merry chase ensued. Yes, he came when he was called. No, he did not come the first time I called him. I’m sure they heard me in East Amana. RAIDER MACALLAN!

The livestock pavilion at the Iowa State Fair is home to the combined 4-H and open dog shows every August during the fair. The site has everything you could want in a training opportunity: six rings, crowds, noise, an unintelligible loud speaker and dirt with questionable substances in it. And corndogs.

To livestock pavilions, outlet malls, fairgrounds and sidewalks near restaurants (pro tip: do NOT train near restaurants in the evening because the scent of fried chicken and sauerbraten wafting on the air is not conducive to clear mental focus. Raider had trouble working, too.)

To dog-friendly businesses where someone inevitably asked, “Do you train husbands, too?” No, ma’am, I do not. Having experience with only one of the species, I do not feel qualified to dispense advice. 

We weren’t perfect. In fact, we looked pretty awful more than once and I was okay with that because it told me what I needed to know. I’d rather find out my dog can’t do a stay in a park for free than pay an entry fee, gas and motel to find out he can’t do it in the show ring. If you think your dog is ready for prime time, take him to a park on a summer afternoon when kids are screaming on the playground equipment, teens are zooming past on bicycles and the Squirrel Mafia is marching around like they own the place and see what you’ve got.

And train THAT dog in THAT moment. Not the dog I think I should have. Not the dog I want to have in a year. The dog I have NOW - the one who needs feedback and direction and help so he can become everything I want him to be.

When the sun set on Labor Day, Raid and I had trained in 28 new places, six short of my target of 34. I’m pleased, even though we didn’t reach my goal. Twenty-eight times, I put my dog and my gear bag in the car and went somewhere that was not our back yard and asked him to do the things I will ask him to do in the show ring.

Yeah. It took commitment. Yeah. There were nights I didn’t want to go. Yeah, life got in the way. Hateful hell weather, prep for my parents’ estate sale, the sale itself, the aftermath of said sale, more hateful hell weather, training my replacement at work and days I was so damn tired I couldn’t see straight meant sometimes I just said screw it and we stayed home and trained in the back yard. Or stayed home and ate ice cream. 

Braining in new places takes a lot out of a guy.

   Thanks to my friends at the GDC and members of the Upper Iowa Training Club. Following your progress through the summer inspired me to keep going!


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