Monday, November 7, 2011

Taking my dog camping: “What are all these dogs doing here, Mom?”

For the bulk of Sensi’s life, we lived in a place that was set far back from the road. You couldn’t see the road at all from the house and Sensi grew accustomed to the privacy. He saw people walking dogs during our walks, but never saw people walking dogs in front of his home.
Alert Sensi
Now, we do live in a house where Sensi can see people walking or riding bikes from the front window or when he’s out in the yard. If he’s outside, he gets upset and barks at them.
With all the time I’ve spent gardening this year — and Sensi outside with me — I came across a great phrase to calm him down. I can’t say with any certainty that he really understands what I’m saying, perhaps it’s just the positive association he has with the words I use, but I’d like to think he does understand, even if just a little.
One day, we were in the front yard — me knuckle deep in the flower beds, Sensi sunbathing on the driveway — when a lady walked by with her dog. Sensi began barking. I walked over to him to calm him down, kneeled down beside him and said, “That’s a nice lady walking a nice dog. Don’t you like to go on walks, Sensi? That’s what they’re doing. They’re going for a walk.”
He calmed down right away, looking intently at my face like he was really trying to understand. And, I’m sure, wondering if we were going to go for a walk.
We didn’t.
I went back to gardening.
About 10 minutes later, two women walked by. Sensi barked once, then stopped and looked at me. I walked over to him, again saying, “Those are nice ladies going for a walk. You like going for walks, right?”
About 10 minutes after that, the first lady with dog returned, likely walking back down the road to her house. Sensi got to his feet, but did not bark. I walked over to him anyway and said the “walk” thing again.
About 15 minutes after that, the two women walkers returned. Sensi lifted his head but didn’t even bother standing up.
This experience gave me the courage that Sensi could handle a campground and all the activity going on. It showed that he can acclimate, and that there’s a very good phrase I can use to help him do it.
We arrived at our campsite at about 6 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. Right off the bat, there were plenty of people walking dogs by our site.
Sensi, in a new place and I’m sure a nervous and excitable because of it, barked ferociously at the first person who walked by with dogs. He calmed down reasonably well, me using the “walk” phrase.
A few more dog walkers later and he wasn’t barking anymore at them. Just watching. And he’d cast a glance at me, as if to ask, “What are all these dogs doing here, Mom?”
Of course, all this activity meant we had to be on our game.
It’s always better to stop a behavior before it starts — using the “walk” thing is way to react to the situation, but it’s always better to prevent a behavior if you can.
Like being at a park, I watched him closely for signs that a person or dog would be passing by. As with most dogs, Sensi’s behavior can indicate what’s going to happen before it does. I know, from watching him, whether there’s an off-leash dog in close proximity while at the park. He’ll sniff the air, his body will tense and he will suddenly become focused in one direction.
That’s when I holler to my group, “There’s a dog around here somewhere, everyone stop and be on the look-out.”
See the treat pouch? It's my new favorite thing.
And it never fails. Within seconds, a dog will come breaking through the brush with no owner in sight. Then, it’s Brent’s job to catch the loose dog before it rushes up to Sensi. You wouldn’t believe what an excellent loose-dog catcher he’s become over the years.
In the campground, I watched for the same behaviors to let me know if a dog walker was just about ready to come into sight.
I learned, the very first night around the campfire, that having my Planet Dog treat pouch at my side was going to be a necessity throughout the trip.
As soon as I saw Sensi tense up, I redirected his attention with treats. Doing that meant being able to avert the whole, “That’s a nice dog walking” thing, because by the time the dog finally walked by, Sensi didn’t care anymore. He was focused entirely on getting that piece of dried lamb lung from my hot little hands. 
Lamb lung, by the way, stinks. It's awful smelling. But dogs go crazy for it, so it was important tool for keeping the peace in the campground.

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