Wednesday, November 1, 2023

'We train at dawn!'

 Happy whatever day this is. I admit to having to consult my phone to confirm it is now Nov. 1 and the Christmas season has launched in all its Hallmark-y, consumer-driven glory. Bah, humbug. It's still meteorological fall and I’m sticking to that for another 30 days. 

 Harvest madness, obedience trials, a mild case of The Plague and a family member’s routine surgery, followed by violently un-routine complications, have had the Gypsy running around like a headless chicken the last few weeks. As a result, this week’s post may be a collection of random thoughts captured as they speed past with no guarantee of cohesion. Writerly people make it a point of avoiding that but I’m flying by the seat of my pants this morning. You have been warned.


Gnomes. Valet parking at UIHC. Incinerated electronics panel on the grain dryer.


See? And for the record, I had nothing to do with that last one.


So . . . last spring some wonderful friends at the Good Dog Center in Decorah, Iowa (look out girls, I’m naming names) launched a summer training challenge to encourage students to work their dogs in different places. Cuz we all know about the perfect backyard 200 dogs that disappear the second we step into the show ring.


The Chaos Goblin may or may not have nibbled on his winged training buddy
during the taking of this picture.

Students who documented training sessions in 50 new sites during a spring through autumn timeframe got a free class at the training center. For those who tackled the challenge with the intent of completing it, it no doubt paid dividends that went beyond the free class. If you are an instructor, you know how blessedly hard it is to get students to train in new places. Because. It’s. Work. And sometimes our dogs look at us like we’re speaking a foreign language when we ask them to perform away from the confines of a familiar training building.


I decided to create my own version of the challenge: train in two new places each week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. That would equal 36 new places away from home over three months. It wasn’t so much about setting up training equipment and creating perfect run-through as it was about continuing to build Goblin engagement under the pressure of people walking by, kids on playground equipment, squirrels doing squirrelly things, etc.


Raid thinks the sidewalk was named after him.
I did not tell him otherwise.

To make a long story short(er), Raider and I made it to 32 new places. The final prep for mom’s estate sale in late summer and a few weeks of truly hateful hell weather kept me from achieving 100% of my goal but I felt good about what we managed.


If you have a dog who can train routinely in one or two sites, then go into the ring and score 40-point heeling, that’s fan-freaking-tastic. My hat is off to you. I have never had that dog. I love a fully matted, climate-controlled training building as much as the next guy but that’s not within the scope of my reality. I am absolutely sparkling chartreuse green with envy (not a good look, trust me) of folks who live in metro areas where they can attend drop-in training, run-throughs and rent ring time in a variety of training centers every week.


Over the summer, we trained in parking lots, city squares, local parks, fairgrounds and on business district sidewalks. I asked Raid to work under some odd conditions and we struggled. I am sure passersby were thinking, “That woman needs to get professional help with that dog.” We did not look ring ready. Some days, he didn’t even look leash trained.


I swore one site was plagued by ghosts. It was the front lawn of a museum sited in a local historic building so I suppose anything is possible. Raid spent a lot of time staring at the doorway and I don’t think he was fascinated by the gorgeous hydrangea planted there.


No ghosts here. Move along. Nothing to see.

We encountered the Squirrel Mafia in a local park. You think I’m kidding. I am not. The squirrels there are large and in charge. They are fearless. It is their park and they know it. They sat on the picnic tables and hurled insults as we heeled by. A couple of times, they threw nuts at us from the trees. Or maybe it was just gravity but when you get a nut bounced off your head, you suspect the worst. I kept expecting one of the little tree rats to accost me and demand a toll for walking on his sidewalk. 


Other summer highlights included the rabbit . . . err . . . dumbbell . . . retrieve incident that nearly dislocated my shoulder. And a deer running straight through the “ring” at a local park. 


Pro tip: if planning to utilize sidewalks near restaurants, time your training NOT to coordinate with peak dining hours. It is not easy to focus on heeling when the scent of fried chicken, sauerbraten and wienerschnitzel is wafting from the Amana Colonies’ finest commercial kitchens.


The sidewalks in a nearby tourism-driven town are not,
in fact, rolled up in the evening.

 Some sessions went well. Others . . . went. Either way, Raider is an absolute riot to train and it is a privilege to have him at my side. I enjoyed our summer outings because they improved our teamwork AND gave me a respite from the on-going clean-out at my parents' house.


Will we ever show at a site that is rife with ghosts or wildlife? Probably not. And that’s not the point. The biggest benefit was learning Raid is generally a red hot mess when he arrives at any training site. That’s just who he is. He’ll never be the dog who can arrive at a trial and go straight into the ring. (Like that would ever happen—he’s owned by the woman who is genetically programmed to “get there early to get a good parking spot.”)


And now here we are, sipping coffee and eating Halloween candy for breakfast on All Saints Day (don’t judge, someone has to eat the leftover miniature peanut butter cups.) For all intents and purposes, outdoor training season is done here in the upper Midwest. This winter I hope to explore more retail sites that welcome dogs.


Whew. That was more cohesive than I thought. Have a grand whatever day this is. I think eating Halloween candy will clarified the thought process . . .



Raid and fren.

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