Friday, January 29, 2010

Lesson Learned

Last night I took Kona to CGC class. Bad idea. I don't know what went through my mind when I thought my dog, who is scared of parking lots, would be able to handle an outing through a strip of coffee shops and restaurants.

The class gave the dogs the chance to practice their CGC drills in the presence of extra distractions. It would be great for any confident dog. Bad of Kona.

I won't go into details, but she was terrified. I was a bad guardian and I didn't leave before she escalated. At the end of class, I broke down in the car. I work hard to have my dog trust me. This was a breach of that trust. What I had a harder time letting go of was the fact that I knew I shouldn't take her, but fell to the naysayers that keep telling me that what Kona really needs is exposure and to deal with her fears.

Today, I'm taking this as a lesson learned. I know what is and isn't good for my dog and I need to stand up for her if I need to. I'm always learning how to help Kona cope and gain confidence, but I don't need help recognizing when she's being challenged and when she's being pushed beyond her limits.

This morning, Kona woke we up at 4am with an upset stomach. Although probably not the root of the problem, stress doesn't help Kona's GI tract. Kona needed to rest her sick belly, so I headed out for a jog around the neighborhood. I feel too naked trail running without my canine friend.

The afternoon called for more Kona rest. We'll take it easy for the next couple days.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mixed Bag Hike

Because we have CGC class tonight, I wanted to have a mellow morning with Kona. We headed to our local canyon where recent storms had taken down several trees. I tried to pose Kona next to this one, but she was very concerned about some dogs barking in the distance.

Kona had a rough start this morning. She took on the look of someone pulling a truck in a strongman competition. Her body was low, her legs pushed hard against the trail, and she held her tail down tightly. About a mile and a half in, we came off the fireroad and down onto a singletrack where the canyon narrows significantly.

Here, the trail vanishes and a half mile of creek crossing leads to a waterfall. Kona immediately gave a good shake, her tail came out, and she became my great explorer. She always relaxes when the terrain becomes more technical.

We didn't head out too far up the canyon. The creek is high enough to make crossing with a leashed dog a little sketchy. I also feel vulnerable through this stretch of canyon. The walls are steep and I feel much too prey-like.

Since Kona had just relaxed, I decided to stay along the creekbed for some of our trek out. At one point, Kona decided she needed to cross the creek. She hopped over a rock to find the right entry point.

Looked at me for the OK to cross.

Found her first paw placement.
Brought her back paws to meet her front paws in an amazing balancing act.

Then realized she ran out of dry rocks and returned to safety.

She did much better on the way back. The scary hurdle is always the parking lot. She has a history of going into a full panic in parking lots. Today we played, "Whoa, aren't I a Clutz." I give out a cheeful, "Whoa, look!" and toss a treat on the floor. The second of retrieving the treat helps break her focus. She still immediately looked up at the parking lot, walking veeerrrry slowly, but she kept retrieving treats until we were a few feet onto the concrete. Thankfully, we only had a few more feet to the car. I've become a strategic parker to make the approach to the car less scary.

She did make one sideways dash, but I blocked her and put my hands out. This makes her stop and sit. I've noticed that if I can stop her body (without physically touching her) her fear is less likely to escalate into panic.

I put a pile of treats in front of her as I fumbled for the keys. She wouldn't eat them. When I got the door open and asked her to hop in, she gobbled up the treats before bounding into her crate.

On the Training Front
CGC class tonight. We're going on a field trip. . .

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Greyhound Pack

Kona and I started the day with a run on the ridge. It's been awhile since we've tackled the full length of this backyard trail. For the past three months I have been nursing a weak ankle and Kona has been regaining strength after three bouts of a mysterious GI illness. Today would be our day to celebrate some healing.

I stopped to say hello to a sleepy Downtown.
As we started jogging, I took in the mountains to the North. There are times when I'd like to turn off the banter of traffic, but I often enjoy being able to take in both city and mountain views.

My lungs felt strong this morning, but my legs have some catching up to do. I'm amazed how just a short absence from running makes my gait feel jolted. It probably did not help that the ridge was Bunnyville this morning. Kona has a thing for bunnies and I was on the other end of her leash.

We stopped to explore a rut the recent rains carved out of the trail. Ruts usually aren't too exciting, but this one measured at least two and a half feet deep.

As we approached the last stretch of our run, the sun peaked over the rolling hills, promising another 70 degree winter day. I tried to snap a portrait of Kona, but this is as close as I got.
On the Training Front
I'm beginning to take Kona on more afternoon and evening excursions. Her fears and anxieties have always been more pronounced later in the day, so we've stuck to morning adventures to build confidence.

With recent gains in confidence, I think that Kona can handle the challenge of the afternoon. Today, we headed to one of her favorite trails. As I suspected, Kona was quite nervous. I took her on her long line, hoping the freedom would spark her enthusiasm. It did, but only moderately. She had trouble responding to me, but she would take treats, which is huge for Kona.

Towards the end of our hike, two off leash dogs came charging up the trail towards us. Kona does well with other dogs. They usually help ease her anxieties in stressful situations. Still, she can be very tense when she meets a new dog, which can get harry if the other dog is also tense or reactive. She also has trouble with excitement, so two charging dogs, greyhounds charging, made my hackles raise.

Amazingly, these two dogs came within twenty feet of us and turned around to run the other way. I then saw that they were only two members of a 6 (or 7) greyhound pack. We were headed on the same trail, so I gave them some space in front of us. A minute later, one of the dogs came charging towards us again. He charged right by, not even stopping for a whiff of Kona. We eventually caught up to the pack and passed them. Kona made it through with only a bit of tail tucking.

I was amazed at how nonchalant the large group was with the presence of Kona and myself. No one really cared. The pack was very much in its own world. Good dogs.

When we made it to the car, I was tired from Kona's higher anxiety. At the same time, I still feel proud of her. She was generally vigilant and tense, but nothing triggered her into a high level of fear. Even a strange man swinging a machete down a gulch only caught her attention for a few seconds. (I hoped he was official personnel, but I didn't stick around to ask.)

I think we'll continue with a few later-in-the-day outings a week.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sunrise Run

Kona and I loaded up and hit the trails just in time to catch the tail-end of sunrise. It's a scene like this that makes me glad that I'm a natural lark.

I was motivated by my lack of motivation yesterday and was determined to get my heart racing. I lingered for the first few minutes to take in the morning. Kona wasn't too up for lingering, but I still let her know how cool her fur looked against the rust-colored hillside.

We rolled up and down a couple hills before we made a long descent that opens up a view of the freeway. During the summer, Kona was hesitant on this stretch of trail, but she was too occupied by scents to care today. I tried to pose her next to someone's rock creation, but she found something down the hill to be much more important.
When we reached our turn around point, we left the freeway view and took in the spring-like hills. I tried not to think about making it to the top.
After a few more loops on different trails, we made our way back to the car. I felt like I got my legs working better today, but running with Kona always means a few stops and detours. She has been very into this shrub the past few times we've been here. I stopped to let her practice her hunting.

On the Training Front
As part of Kona's Canine Good Citizen test, she has to make it through a three minute supervised separation. I'm with our trainer that this is a goofy test as most dog owners would never hand their dog off to a complete stranger and walk away. We're working on it as a sit-stay, as Kona isn't keen on having a stranger grab her leash. I'm hoping that if she's working, she'll be less worried about who's nearby.

I'm practicing an extended sit-stay with food in front of her. She stays very well, but will break her stay when I'm out of sight for too long. But, she's very good at not leaving food, so having her stay in front of a pile of treats is actually easier for her.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Two Shuffles

I planned to take Kona up one of our favorite peaks this morning, but my plan stayed a plan. As soon as I started jogging, I knew it would be rough to convince my legs to make it up the two and a half miles of switchbacks. They felt like jello.

The trails are still wet from last week's storms and Kona seems to find more sniffs after the rain. I happily stopped my shuffle to let her sniff everything. Halfway up the trail, I called it a morning and we headed back to the car.

To make up for our lost AM miles, we headed out for an evening jog, err, shuffle. I took Kona's long line so she'd get some exercise, even if I wasn't moving fast. She would reach the end of her line and look back at me.

I decided to use my slow pace to practice Kona's recall. She would race in front of me and just before she yanked on her leash (or just after, if my timing was off) I'd let out a, "Kona, come!"

We kept cool thanks to a cloud cover. The saturated sky made the new spouts of grass look emerald green. At our turn around point, we passed a slope that burned last summer. The new growth is slowly covering the ashen hillside.

We finished our shuffle after an hour on the ridge line. I didn't get my endorphins fix, but I got my dose of Kona.

On the Training Front
Kona heads into her third week of Canine Good Citizen class. If all goes well, on the final day Kona will be tested and qualify as a Canine Good Citizen. Well, let me just say that Kona is special. My mom has dubbed her my special ed. dog. She has a package of fear issues that make the test seem laughable. But! But, we're going to class anyway. I'll keep you posted!