Ahhhhhhhh…I have been camping. The weather was gorgeous, my site was shady, and my dogs rested quietly at my feet. The key word is "quietly". I love to take my dogs camping with me, but there has always been the issue of barking. I've tried everything. Ignoring bad behavior, high pitch whistles, clicker method, reward method, shock collars, being "in command" of my dogs, all to no avail. As a last resort, I decided to try a method a friend told me about that I didn't have much faith in, but desperation calls for last resorts.
I have been looking forward to this trip for a month. On Friday, as I was packing up, I grabbed a new plastic bottle with a spray nozzle on it, filled it with water, and we headed off to discover some new and spectacular place in Michigan.
I should note here that it has been a while since I last posted. I apologize to all my readers, both imaginary and real, that I may have jumped the gun a bit on starting a blog. I thought it might the right time to do this, but after being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, and still having kids at home, I have found that I still choose to be a mom first; therefore, the last few busy weeks my attention has been focused on my family and home. Thankfully my husband and kids really do support me in my efforts to start branching out and doing something in addition to being a mom, so they sent me off on this camping trip with the one stipulation of taking the dogs with me so they wouldn't have to figure out how to take care of the dogs. It is my hope that as we settle into our summer routine, I will find more time to blog.
I drove on Friday until I ended up at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan. I have not camped there before, but fell in love with the beach. I am rather adept at setting up my "glampsite", by early evening I was settled in with a pretty site, a bonfire, a good book, and the dogs' company. Teddy, the little mutt, requires his own camp chair; he sleeps next to the fire like a real camper. Rooney, the big dog, prefers the cool ground. As with every trip I've taken them on, as soon as they hear the pitter-patter of feet, canine or human, they pick their heads up, tense, and I know the barking is about to commence. I was armed this time.
The instant their heads picked up, I sprayed them with the water bottle, right in the snout, and said "Quiet". They did not like it. Rooney jumped up and ran from me as far as his lead line allowed, then tried to circle back around me. I cut him off, and when he started to bark at the nice old couple walking by, I sprayed him again. We did this about 5 times, and Teddy was so engrossed watching us, he forgot to bark. Then I turned and sprayed Teddy once more too, just so he wouldn't feel left out.
We settled back in quietly until the next person walked by, then went through the same thing all over again. By mid-day on Saturday, all I had to do was point the bottle at them when they picked their heads up, and they settled back down quietly. They weren't barking! I swear, whenever I pointed that water bottle at them, it was like they were staring down the barrel of a handgun! They froze.
On Sunday, it was enough to keep the water bottle next to my chair. I could not believe how simple and humane this method is for training. I enjoyed a peaceful weekend camping with my dogs, and it was just the break I needed to spark my creativity and re-focus.
I love my dogs, even Teddy, the little mutt who was never supposed to be mine, but here he is. Now that I have a method for training them that I am comfortable with, and works, I hope to turn them both into well-behaved companions, though I have a lot of work to do yet, since Rooney needs to learn more than not barking.
Both dogs walk very well on a leash. I hold the leashes in my left hand, Rooney heels at my side nicely, and Teddy walks two steps ahead of Rooney. When we aren't in an area with people, I either let their leashes out to 10 feet and let them explore, or sometimes unhook them completely and let them run, as long as we are alone in the woods and I have a bag of treats in my pocket to entice them back to me.
So it was that we were walking on Sunday, short leashes, down a lovely shaded path high on a bank above Black Creek. I had avoided the creek, because that's where the snakes live, and stayed high above-ground where I felt safer. True to form, though, Rooney jerked, and without warning the leash flew out of my hand, then he took off down the bank to the creek. There was absolutely no way I was going to follow him down there! Knowing that he would eventually return, muddy and possibly with a certain creature hanging from his mouth, I was frantic to get him to come back. As the momentum pulled him and he barreled down the bank, I yelled all sorts of things to get his attention, all to no avail. In a brilliant moment of inspiration, I imitated the sound of the water bottle squirting with a sharp hiss through my teeth. Rooney stopped on a dime! He turned around, stared at me, I pointed my finger at him and hissed again, and he trudged back up the bank, head down in deference to my amazing command over artificial sounds, and we continued our walk.
Is this seriously all it takes to train my dog? Time will tell, I suppose, but it looks promising right now.
In my next post, I will write about Hoffmaster State Park and all the interesting things to do there, and I have a few more stories about Rooney to tell. Suffice it to say, for now, that downtown Grand Haven will never be the same now that Rooney has been there.