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adventures with dogs

Origins: Charissa

Origins: Charissa

Written by Summit Dog Training Associate Trainer Charissa Beaubien

I grew up in the mountains of Salida, Colorado on my family’s farm with horses, chickens, cows, dogs, and cats. My best friend was a hybrid dog named Raydar. Raydar and I spent our childhood adventuring and exploring the Rockies together.

Charissa & Raydar playing dress up.

Charissa & Raydar playing dress up.

I think back on my childhood and realize that there were always dogs around; when I had Raydar, we also had four other dogs. I learned a lot about dog communication by watching our five (or more) dogs interact and figure out life together. We never owned leashes or groomed our dogs, the dogs slept inside and ate scraps mixed with what ever else was laying around. Our dogs were treated very well and all lived full long lives but they were always just dogs. They spent most of their day outside laying in the sun or protecting the cows, they also went on adventures when we would go hunting or out to chop wood. In town they followed us around the streets saying hello to other dogs or slept in the truck if we just had to run errands. I remember thinking it was weird that people didn’t take their dogs everywhere with them.

Left to Right: Chance, Honey, Raydar & Annie

Left to Right: Chance, Honey, Raydar & Annie

I moved to Ohio during my teen years, and there began working professionally with animals in 2009 at a local humane society and soon discovered a passion for helping those in need. I remember this time in my life vividly as I started working at the shelter and soon discovered people treated their animals very differently then I had as a child. They would surrender their old dogs because they just purchased a new puppy. Or people would hurt and abuse their dogs because they were acting like any dog would. I also saw a lot of good people give loving homes to shelter dogs! 

While working at the shelter I was able to intern under a "balanced” trainer teaching classes and training the shelter dogs. In that time a skinny pit bull/hound mix named Dylon walked into my life. Dylon had been abandoned and tied to a tree so that his collar had become imbedded and he was diagnosed with acute renal failure due to stress. The shelter’s veterinary team was not optimistic. But Dylon chose me. There had been a handful of dogs I wanted to adopt from the shelter but alas this skinny boy wouldn’t leave me alone.  He went home with me as a foster dog were he recovered quickly, and soon after I adopted him. However healthy, Dylon had many behavioral hiccups such as separation anxiety, handling sensitivity, and lack of manners. I was unable to use force or intimidation with Dylon due to his injuries, and this prompted me to began researching positive training methods to use with him.

Meet Dylon!

Meet Dylon!

While I was training under my mentor he told me these methods would never work and that I would never be a good trainer because I was a girl and thus I was not strong enough (mentally or physically) to make a dog respect me. This lit a fire under me to prove him wrong. I knew that by using love and empathy I could build a relationship with an animal and in this way I could teach them new things!  Dylon proved that trust was the key to building a lifelong relationship with me, that to this day is unbreakable.

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  Charissa and Dylon near Red Feather Lakes paddle boarding and looking for Ducks.

Charissa and Dylon near Red Feather Lakes paddle boarding and looking for Ducks.

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   Charissa, Dylon, and boyfriend Tyler enjoying Moab’s Red Rock mountains

 

Charissa, Dylon, and boyfriend Tyler enjoying Moab’s Red Rock mountains

In 2013 I dedicated my career to progressive positive reinforcement marker-based training. I decided to take Karen Pryor’s Certified Training Partner course and graduated as a certified animal trainer in 2014. I am enthusiastic about continued education and public outreach. In 2015 I received a second animal training certification through CCPDT, becoming a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed. I am currently working towards a Silver Certification in Low Stress Handling.

My current job is at the Humane Society of Weld County as the Behavior Technician, in addition to being the Associate Trainer at Summit Dog Training. I am working to develop the behavior department at the shelter and group classes for the animals in the shelter's care as well as the animals in the community. I also work at CSU as a Colorado State University lab instructor for the first year Veterinary Students teaching low stress handling.   

I spend my free time camping and hiking with Dylon and a new addition Arja, a Cornish Rex kitten, in beautiful Fort Collins, CO. My goal is to change myths about shelter dogs and express to owners that compassion, trust, empathy, and fun build lasting human animal bonds. I want to show people that we can allow our dogs to be dogs and that by doing so we are fulfilling their needs and creating behaviorally healthy canines. And that when someone tells you that you can’t, prove them wrong.

Dylan gets cozy on a mountain adventure as the night slows down.

Dylan gets cozy on a mountain adventure as the night slows down.

Essential Canine Skills for Hiking Success

Essential Canine Skills for Hiking Success

Do you want to have fantastic hiking adventures with your dog, but you don’t know where to start?  Getting out in the wild can be challenging enough without an over-enthusiastic dog contributing to the stress.  In case you missed our “Hiking With Your Dog 101” seminar last night at Kriser’s Natural Pet, let’s review the list of foundation skills that are essential for enjoyment and safety out on the trail:

Essential Skills for Hiking Success:

       Recall

       Sit

       Stay

       Hand Target

       Give Attention to You

       Leave It

       Follow Your Directional Cues

Here is Roo responding to my directional cue to advance down the rocks ahead of me.

Here is Roo responding to my directional cue to advance down the rocks ahead of me.

Now, before you grab your dog and your leash and head to the mountains to start running through this list with your dog, let’s start a little more simply.  Practice each of these individually (5 minutes at a time, with breaks) at home, in your own backyard, first.  Just like you learned to ride a bike in your driveway and not out on the highway where there are higher stakes, your dog should learn new skills (or brush up on rusty skills) at home first and then take it out to the more challenging environment.  Start small and reward your dog when they respond correctly to your cues.  Be positive – when you are out on the trail, you want your dog to LOVE coming back to you instead of chasing the wildlife.  So be happy, positive, and encouraging at home too.

When you think your dog is ready for a bigger challenge, you can head to the trail.  But keep in mind that when you are adding more challenges to the environment (like the presence of animal scat and other hikers with or without dogs) you should plan to reduce your criteria a little bit and work back up to the goal behavior.  For example, even if your dog can do a 3-minute sit stay inside the house, perhaps start with a 15-30 second sit stay while other hikers are passing by, with enough distance to help your dog be successful and make good decisions. And be ready to reward BIG for great responses!

These training foundations are just one aspect of preparing for happy, safe hikes with your dog.  Don’t forget about conditioning & stretching, pet first aid, proper equipment, and trail etiquette; these are all components that make the trail a pleasant place for everyone involved.  Look for future blog posts on each of these topics, or contact us to get one-on-one help with preparing you and your dog to hit the trail together!

  

Create, Then Consume

Create, Then Consume

I recently read an article by The Everygirl on a photographer who has made a name for herself in her industry through creative branding and successful leveraging of social media.  Although I’m not a photographer, or even as artistic and trendy as Jenna Kutcher, I haven’t stopped thinking about one of the things she said about staying inspired in your business:

“Create, then consume.”

She describes the world of social media as a shouting match, one that can block our own creativity from flowing freely.  You can read the article for some great practical suggestions about how to change your focus from consuming to creating; it’s good stuff. 

I’ve been pondering on this a lot as it relates to our dogs and training.  How many times do I think “man, I wish I had time to teach my dog x, y, and z” and it never seems to make it to the top of the list; but yet I find the time to check Facebook for five minutes (*cough* or more *cough*) every morning and night.  If I spent just as much time teaching my dog something new every day, he might be qualified to run for president four years from now. 

I have initiated a little challenge for myself.  I’m working up to the goal behavior of lots of training, little bit of social media, so to start out, my objective is to spend at least half as much time on training as I do checking SM platforms.  So if I spend 30 minutes on Facebook, I will do a 15-minute (or 3 5-minute) training session(s) with my own dog each day. 

Roo has loved the extra attention this week!  He's already fine-tuned his pivoting skills (getting ready for his Intermediate Parkour Dog Title!) and practiced backing up onto high objects.  

Roo has loved the extra attention this week!  He's already fine-tuned his pivoting skills (getting ready for his Intermediate Parkour Dog Title!) and practiced backing up onto high objects.  

If you want to join me on this challenge, I’d love to have company!  Even if you don’t have a dog to train, find something else to start working on.  Pick up an instrument you haven’t practiced in years, find a language-learning application, start an educational book, or a writing project.  15 minutes doesn’t seem that long, especially compared to how much time I often spend consuming online. 

If you and your dog accomplish something great during these sessions, I want to see it!  Share you progress on Facebook or Instagram so that we can encourage each other!

Weekend Adventures & Helicopter Dog-Parenting

Weekend Adventures & Helicopter Dog-Parenting

This weekend we escaped to the mountains for a few days, trading in the 95+ degree days that Fort Collins experienced for cool mountain breezes and remnants of snow.  Of course, the dog came along, as did our adventurous friends Charissa and Tyler and their two pups, Dylon and Chip. 

fort-collins-backpacking-dog-osprey

We set off Friday night after work, drove two hours all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park, found our destination trail head, grabbed our packs and three leashes and hit the trail.  The plan was to hike 5.5 miles to a lake that first night . . . but as adventures are prone to do, it didn’t work out exactly the way we had intended.  

Eventually we were wandering around in the dark on a service road looking for the next part of the trail.  Definitely a great thing to do past 11:00 PM when we’re worn out, starting to get cold, and the dogs have just scared us half to death with an inquisitive incident too close to a gushing river culvert for comfort. 

We give up the search for the trail and find a campsite. Not perfect, but serviceable for the night.  Thank you, to whatever organization owned the dump truck and backhoe that provided us shelter from the wind and a barrier in case of early morning travelers on the service road.

Crazy kids.

Crazy kids.

The next day we continued the search for the trail, and finally decided that it was obscured by the rushing river and with three pups it would not be safe to attempt a crossing.  An alternate plan was decided on, and we made a camp, in a beautiful spot directly under the continental divide. 

The dogs romped in the swamp and streams, we sat in the sun and played cards, we all took naps in the middle of the day (can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten to do that!), and generally rested and enjoyed being out in the fresh air.  It wasn’t the 20 mile hiking loop that we had planned.  But this was perfect.

Being trail dogs is rough sometimes.

Being trail dogs is rough sometimes.

On the way back to the trail head the next day, Roo and Dylon enjoyed some off-leash scurries through the woods and brambles along the trail.  After a while, Roo started to venture further from the path to the right - in the direction of the river (and the very steep embankments leading down to it).  At this point, I started feeling a little bit like a helicopter parent: constantly worried about where he was, nagging, continuously asking him to check in with me. . . none of which thrilled him very much, and it wasn’t very relaxing and peaceful for me either!  Eventually I just put him back on leash for a bit so that I wasn’t constantly fussing with him.

Reflecting on this after our trip concluded, I have connected a few dots about this situation that have shed some light (although not excused) my downslide from relaxed off-leash moderator into overbearing dog-mom.  And I thought, “If I’m seeing this response in myself so easily, when I generally trust my dog off-leash and know the disadvantages of constantly fussing without a good reason, how easy it is for my clients to default to this type of communication with their dogs?”  

As far as I can tell, my micromanagement of my dog in this situation boils down to the emotion of fear, residual from the near-mishap that occurred in the dark on Friday night.  The horrifying images and feelings that come to mind when thinking of the “what-ifs” of that scenario are still uncomfortable, almost a week later, so it makes sense that not quite 2 days post-incident my brain would still be especially prone to anxious or fearful responses connected to some of the same stimuli.

This has been a helpful thing for me to remember, and recognize how it so easily infiltrated my attitude when interacting with my pup.  Without addressing the underlying emotions of anxiety and fear that we have with our dogs (in whatever scenario, due to whatever history), these emotions will have a significant impact on how we communicate, to the point of undermining our training goals. 

I am doing more thinking and researching on the impacts of emotions (good and bad) on our communication style, and how this can affect our experiences with our dogs, and plan to write more about this topic soon.  But in the mean time, I want to leave you with a challenge: if you find yourself being a “helicopter dog-parent,” look at the scenario.  What underlying feelings are causing you to feel the need to control every step your dog makes?  These feelings could be completely legitimate (“my dog is too friendly with kids and we’re walking by a playground and I’m scared he’ll jump up”), and I’m certainly not telling you to turn your dog loose without a second thought.  But just think about it.  You might just realize, like I did, that your anxiety is residual from a previous scenario and not directly because of the situation at hand.   

Good boy, Roo.  

Good boy, Roo.  

 

Adventuring with Your Dog: Expectations

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Adventuring with Your Dog: Expectations

Each adventure you embark on with your dog has the potential to be fantastic.  Idyllic.  Instagram-worthy.  Like strolling through the Shire on a warm, sunny day. 

Well, as close to the Shire as you can get in real life, anyways.  Lory State Park, Colorado.

Well, as close to the Shire as you can get in real life, anyways.  Lory State Park, Colorado.

But in order to promote this harmonious, peaceful picture, here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin:

1. Adventures with dogs are often messy. And wet.  And muddy.  

Roo's favorite part of any adventure is the "getting as filthy as possible" part. 

Roo's favorite part of any adventure is the "getting as filthy as possible" part. 

Going in with this understanding and expectation will greatly reduce your dirt-induced stress and increase your dog's enjoyment of the experience.  To mitigate this aspect of dogs on adventures, I recommend proper, mud-durable apparel for you, and appropriate drying equipment (like towels) or containment tools (like crates) for back at the car.  Unless, of course, you have a super-cool and awesome dog-mobile and don't care if your dog finger-paints with mud on the back seat, in which case I think we'd be good friends ;).  

2. Dogs often have a different idea of "fun" than we do.  To many dogs, finding every unique smell on the trail or running helter-skelter through the brush is intoxicating; to us, stopping to allow our dog to sniff at every little stick or leaf or running hither and thither after who knows what isn't exactly what we had in mind when we left the safety of the backyard.  The important thing with these competing motivations is to find a middle ground where both ends of the leash can be satisfied.  Ideally, this is an understanding between you and your dog that permits them to run around unleashed to their heart's content (leash-laws permitting), but when you say "Rover, come!" they are back at your side in a split second.  Leading up to this point is a lot of dedicated recall work - stay tuned for a future blog post on that!  If your dog isn't able to run unleashed, teaching a consistent "check-in" behavior on-leash is a good next step.      

3. Work up to it.  The first time you take your dog out on an adventure, whether as a puppy or as an adult dog, don't be surprised if all of the cues your dog knows so well at home suddenly seem to be forgotten.  Dogs are not great generalizers anyways, but the added distractions and allurements of the new environment complicate things even further. As you increase the level of distraction in the environment around you and your dog, you should be ready to reduce your criteria somewhat (i.e. don't expect a perfect 3 minute down-stay beside a busy trailhead when you have only been practicing in your backyard) to set your dog up for success.  Increasing your quality of reinforcement is also a good idea as you start working in new places.  Just because your dog works for kibble at home doesn't mean that will be reinforcing to him when there are squirrels all around!  Eventually, the goal in training is to be able to reduce the frequency and the value of the reinforcers, but at first, we make sure that the reward is appropriate to the behavior we ask for.

4. Remember, adventures are about having fun for you and your dog.  If either of you are struggling, take a break, take a breath, and try to find the good things your dog is doing (even if they seem very, very small) and start from there.  

Stay tuned for future posts about specific skills that are useful for every canine adventurer to know to promote a safe, fun experience for everyone on the trail!

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Micro-Adventures

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Micro-Adventures

Adventuring with your dog is more than just weekend warrior-ing it up on a mountain trail.  It's a lifestyle, a culture; a thought process through which you plan out your whole day (*ahem* life).  I'm not joking - I often wake up in the morning and plan my errands, workout, lunch break, client training sessions, and workflow based on what things can involve the dog and what things can't.  And when my husband and I talk about future plans, the logistics surrounding the dog ("How would we get him to New Zealand if we ever moved there?" // "Roo would totally love to go backpack around Europe with us for a year, don't you think?") are always part of the discussion.

While taking the dog on an international trip is pretty extreme (notice I didn't say "out of the question" ;) ), there are dozens of smaller ways to include your dog in your daily life that don't require getting the Center for Disease Control involved.  The beauty of these "micro-adventures" is that you can fit them into your schedule, and adjust them to the skill and physical ability of your dog.  Let me give you an example of what I mean through a review of Roo's micro-adventures from today:

First thing this morning, we waved good-bye to Charlie's parents who visiting!  Roo came along and enjoyed being part of the excitement.  He then got his normal walk in City Park, Fort Collins.  

Image stolen from Charlie's parents' Facebook. ;) 

Image stolen from Charlie's parents' Facebook. ;) 

Next up was dropping Charlie off for work and getting in an early morning grocery run.  Roo came along and sat in the car during the grocery run (hence the early morning part before the sun warmed the temperature up) and then licked Charlie good-bye.  No pictures of this except one we took in the car to help with a school project for Charlie's cousin Emilie.  And of course, Roo was involved (and possibly trying to eat "Flat Emilie").  

After this, I finished a challenging business project after weeks of procrastination and Roo took a power nap.  To reward us for our efforts (+R works for people too!) we ate lunch in the sun, then took off together on my bike to run some errands in Old Town since both of my stops (the bank and the wine store) were dog friendly establishments - just one of the many, many, many reasons to LOVE Fort Collins.  

First stop, the bank!  Kudos to the Wells Fargo College + Magnolia location for being so cool and dog friendly!  Roo loved the attention and love.  :) 

Second stop, Mulberry Max for the essentials: Fish Eye Cabernet for me, dog biscuit for Roo (not pictured because he already devoured it).     

Final stop before home was City Park again.  Roo enjoyed a nice peanut butter kong in the shade while I did a leg workout (ouch).  

After the workout and kong were finished, we rode home together, both worn out but happy and smiling.  You could conclude that the lesson in this story is that I spend too much time with my dog.  Perhaps I do ;).  But I think a better lesson to take away is that doing awesome things with your dog doesn't have to be earth shattering or magazine-cover-picture-worthy.  It just has to be fun for the both of you. 

These micro-adventures took maybe 10 minutes each (with the exception of the 40 minute workout), and while it was great to be able to string several together in one day, that it certainly not the norm for my schedule or always ideal depending on your schedule and your dog.  The point is, do what you can!  Find the little things that your dog can be included on, and make it a fun outing!  I know first-hand how bringing the dog along can turn a mundane errand like standing in line at the bank into an interesting and exciting event, for both you and your pup.  Start small.  Work up to it.  And consider these guidelines as you get started:

1. Always consider the time of day, the temperature, and your dog's physical comfort before embarking on an outing.  For our bike trip today, I was constantly monitoring the temperature of the surface Roo was running on, staying in the shade as much as possible, and offering him water at every stop.  A bike ride in the heat of the day is not something I would have put him through if it was 90 degrees outside.    

2. Be courteous and ask if dogs are permitted when you enter a store or business, even if you are pretty sure that they are allowed.  I knew that the two establishments I visited today were dog-friendly, but I still checked with the first employee I saw by asking "Is it ok to bring my dog in?"  This does more than just get the answer to your question - it demonstrates a care and respect for the business that goes a long way towards keeping places dog friendly.  

3. Always be prepared to clean up after your dog, whether you are outside a store or (heaven forbid) inside.  Again, your care and respect for the business and its facilities is part of what keeps places dog friendly.  If your dog isn't able to discriminate between appropriate outdoor potty areas and indoors, it isn't a good idea to keep taking it to those places where it can make those mistakes.  Don't give up on adventuring together though!  Just find other places that would be more suitable as you work things out together.             

4. Remember, adventuring is about having fun, for both you and your dog.  If your dog is stressed in an environment (While we were walking from the bank to Mulberry Max today an ambulance came down the street with its sirens on, and the tall office buildings really amplified the sound. Roo just looked up at me and seemed to ask what the fuss was about, but it could have been very startling or stressful for a dog not used to that volume of noise so close.) then don't push it, or work up to it in small steps, and consult a trainer if you would like help getting your dog comfortable in that environment.  Similarly, if you are stressed out by taking your dog to a particular place (for me, that's the dog park!), then don't do it!  There are plenty of fun activities to choose from, and you don't have to suffer through something you or your dog doesn't enjoy.  You will be happier doing the activity you can enjoy, and your dog will thank you for that too.  :)

What "micro-adventures" do you and your dog enjoy together?  Let us know about them in the comments so that we can maybe try them too!  

Happy Micro-Adventuring!

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