Friday, I explained my Debbie-Downer spiral into guilty dog owner misery. Wednesday was NOT a good day, and I was feeling like a failure at dog-training, and like I wanted to hunt down that awful Dog Whisperer wannabe and smack him upside the head. I also mentioned the up-swinging mood that I planned to post, and then failed to actually post it. I figured I ought to get it together while the timeline still makes sense.
I bounced back from my bad mood, and armed myself for WAR before heading out to take Gwynn and Sadie for a walk on Thursday last week. I would not give in to this doggy failureness, despite being lacking in walk-buddy Doodle (she’s having a blast up north, by the way). I would overcome.
I would be triumphant.
So I raided the fridge. The big container of treats I brought with me had small, easily torn up pieces of:
- Cooked Chicken
- Cooked Ham
- And… secret weapon… salmon skin. Also cooked. This is gold. Gwynn gets crazy-eyed at this, and so does Sadie. Gwynn does a run-through of anything he can think of – sit, down, wave, other paw, both paws, roll, attempt to use the Force and take fish skin using the power of his mind. The other dogs in Gwynn’s obedience class try to get close enough to grab the baggie of fish-skins, confusing their owners to no end as to why I’m suddenly awesome. Once I realized how effective this treat was, I started freezing it every time we make salmon for dinner. A slab of salmon is considerably less expensive with the skin on, and it isn’t that hard to cut it off before prepping your salmon. We could eat it ourselves, and I realise that there isn’t anything bad about it, but… it’s shiny and odd, and I’d much prefer to not eat it.
How to Make Fish-Skin Snacks for Your Dog:
Cut the skin off the raw fish – use a large, sharp knife for this, and take your time. Put it on a baking tray with parchment paper on it (to prevent the skin from sticking to the tray), and stick it in the oven (375 Fahrenheit) until it is crispy.
Break it into pieces (I cut them to about 1”x 1”) and store in the fridge (short term) or freezer (long term).
I break it up in my hand when using it in training, so if you don’t want to have to do this, cut it into smaller pieces.
Be warned… your hands will be kind of greasy and smell like fish after you start serving out fishy treats to your dog. Putting hand sanitizer on your fishy hands will make them smell like vodka-soaked fish.
I loaded my nerdy fanny pack with the Tupperware full of weapons of mass obedience (WMO’s), water, and a ball.
I kept Gwynn and Sadie on-leash, walking nicely, for the first 20 minutes in the park (this is after a 20 minute-ish walk to get to the park), and every few steps, I practiced the command that I KNEW they know… but on-leash.
Sit. Wait. Retreat a few paces, making them wait. Come. Reward. WMO and affection and verbal praise… I threw everything in my arsenal at them.
And repeat… many times in a 20 minute period, interspersed with actual walking down the path, and with random sit commands. Basically, my goal was to show them that ‘to come when called is to fill their mouths with morsels of awesome’. I am the candyman, and the pied piper – follow my lead, dogs.
I do realise that this should have been followed by working with them like this for a few days, then working like this, but on a long line, then working off-leash and in an enclosed area, then working off-leash in a very distraction-free area. And also, training two dogs at once is not necessarily a wise choice. BUT I knew that they both know this command, and that Sadie always stays quite close to me (and Gwynn stays close to Sadie, because he loves her), and I also knew that if I didn’t let Sadie run at all on this walk, she’d be a hyperactive mess until our next walk, next Tuesday.
They were also just about cross-eyed with glee at the WMO’s, so I was hopeful about off-leash training, and thoroughly ignoring the inner voice. The inner voice was describing what happened every single time for the past three weeks that I have let Gwynn off-leash. He left the school-yard, ran across a street and into someone’s back yard. He ate a large portion of a very old-dead-seagull, he ate A LOT of goose-poop and crawled under a picnic table that had two women sitting at it. He ran into someone’s yard while trying to make friends with a cat. He ran into that person’s yard again, a week later, trying to find that cat.
Luckily, the inner voice failed to consider the WMOs… the WMOs were a much greater lure than any sane, food-oriented dog could resist. They were better than:
- Running through the woods to the creek
- Sniffing a girl on a bike (even before actually getting a sniff in… they were less than 5 ft from the girl)
- A stroller (and Gwynn LOVES strollers, though I’m not sure why)
- Sniffing trees off in the woods
- Standing on a big rock
- And… chasing Sadie. Obviously this one doesn’t apply to Sadie… but Gwynn, mid-chase, stopped… and returned to me.
What they weren’t better than?
There was a black cat in the woods, and it climbed a tree to avoid meeting Gwynn and Sadie. While Sadie considered the WMOs to be better than a cat up a tree (she has kitty friends at home, so they aren’t as exciting), Gwynn was determined to get a kitty friend. I have NEVER seen a cat down in the creek valley before Thursday. Ever.
I even had them doing the Sit… wait while I back up… come practice while they were off-leash. Every time they brought the ball back, in fact. Then they got the double-treat of getting a WMO, and getting the ball thrown again. One woman walking down the path asked me if I was a dog trainer. While I realize I’m nowhere near that good… it was such a morale booster, especially on top of all the successful training practice we were doing.
What I learned from all this mood-swinging activity:
- Practice. It needs to happen, or all the success goes away, leaving me wallowing in unhappiness and guilt at my dog-fail-ness.
- The right treat – find that thing that the dog loves even more than animal carcasses and feces. That is what you should be doing your high-distraction training with. At home, anything I give him seems to count as awesome treat.
- Positivity – Mr. Snark crushed me with his scorn and derision… why? Because I let a random stranger with no knowledge of how awesome and generally good Gwynn is tell me how sucky I am at life. And I believed him. The positive side of this, though, is that it was enough of a kick-start to make me more focused on doing the necessary steps to work through the training issues we’ve run into. I was still dead-tired, but I was reminded of how much more than just exercise and fun Gwynn needs. I went to sleep early… and will continue to do so while I’ve got all this extra time on my hands (dogless for a week).