Training Intensified

Upon returning from our Anchorage trip, where I had Tomodachi spayed, we buckled down on further training. In Togiak it is easy enough to find places to let the dogs go free, though I am very hesitant in letting them roam. Not because I don’t want to enrich their lives, but as the ‘go-to’ person when animals are hurt, I’ve heard how people have shot dogs with their owners right there. On the day of these pictures I made sure no one else was around, save a friend, and a couple in a boat who were busy fishing. The fact that humans are shooting dogs on the beach is disgusting, so I don’t like to let them too far from my person.

The reason for letting the dogs run off, though, is recall. While in Anchorage a dog ran up to both myself and another dog walker (both of us had our dogs on-leash). This dog didn’t return when the owner called. She tried to reassure both of us that her dog was friendly. Let’s forget the fact that maybe our dogs might be violent, and if an unleashed dog approaches our dogs might attack, dogs shouldn’t be running free. Luckily for me, my dogs are very well behaved, but that is beside the point. The other dog walker’s dogs were toy breeds, and a large shepherd running toward them could cause anxiety. I, myself, have become violent with dogs coming after mine. I carry a taser cane because we have been attacked multiple times since moving to Togiak.

Both my pups need to work on recall. I don’t know if I will let them off much while in Togiak outside the fenced in area I am cleaning and setting up. We also practice in the home.

The white dog in both pictures is Apollo. His owners are both irresponsible and reprehensible. Apollo has attacked dogs in my care on more than one occasion. (I’ve had two students claim Apollo bit them, and nothing was done.) The second picture is of him and his ‘pack’ attacking a smaller dog, who was eventually surrendered because he was too scared to leave their place to use the bathroom. I’ve had multiple dealings with Apollo’s female owner and my description of her is ‘user.’ She cares only for herself and once a person stops doing what she wants, she threatens them (I have Messenger proof of her threatening me saved, so I am not saying this out of the blue). My reason for posting this under training is because, as you can see, none of these dogs are on leash, nor are their owners around. So, how does one train their dogs when ferals such as these are running amok? (As an aside, while these dogs are owned by irresponsible people, there are more people in Togiak who are responsible than not, and these folks are wonderful.)

Nakama, Tomodachi, and I train indoors. It is pretty simple to work with them while inside because they are off-leash and always ready for a treat. Both dogs are awesome at waiting before chowing down on both their meals and snacks.

We also play the games that involve following me and coming from one room to another. My doggos are both food-motivated, so we use homemade and store-bought treats. They like them all, so I can switch it up easily enough. One day I hope to do more training outside after they have learned ‘ignore.’

Ignore is a major training. Nakama is about 50% when it comes to ignoring while we are walking along. Tomodachi, since she is only ten months, is still very social. I’ve had to train the students in the area to ignore us so I can train my dogs. Sometimes that training proves not to have sunk in, so I have no issues with telling children to leave. This does not work with ferals running around. The best we can do at this point is train my dogs, and if necessary do what I need to in order to keep my dogs safe. When I can’t trust the people or the dogs in the vicinity, I have to train the three of us to be on the defensive. Training equals safety, and I want everyone to be safe.

How Much is Too Much?

Puppers on a 5k!

A little over a month ago we did a thing! We managed a continuous 5k, but it was clearly too much to make this start. While Nakama is fully capable and ready for a continuous 10k, Tomodachi was not ready for this smaller continuous walk. When we got home they both passed out for the rest of the day. Granted, maybe we should have started with broken increments anyway, even for Nakama, who used to do 10k’s with me all the time. Unfortunately it was the nicest it had been in a long while, my feet were not hurting in any way, and we hadn’t had a walk in a long time. Part of the issue, not mentioned above, was the fear of the dog who had attacked. Said dog is now dead due to owner negligence. So, we were clearly ready for some sort of walk thanks to the cabin fever. However, now we will break our 5k’s up. Once school is over for the term we will have three walks a day for a total of 5 to 6k. This way we get out of the house for a time and still get in a good 5k a day to keep training for our massive walk.

Passed out after a walk!

A good rule of thumb for walking dogs under two, per many Internet searches, and speaking with the vet, is five minutes for every month of the dog’s age. Tomodachi is currently eight months old, so I keep our walks to 40 minutes or less. This includes meandering and basically sniffing every twig, brush pile, and rock cluster we come across. Generally we hit about 1.5 miles in such a time, which fits my 5 to 6k goal. I hope she improves in her concentration as we practice more. This summer we are hitting up Anchorage for her spay, so after she’s had a bunch of quality downtime, we are hitting the trails and exploring.

For the 5k we did a race where the proceeds went to helping animal shelters. Myself and both pups earned a race medal, which they are proudly displaying in this photograph!

Crating and Indoor Dogs

I see, constantly, folks berating the use of crates when working with dogs. Let them run free! Crating is cruel! That isn’t how to treat a pet! Well, as someone who has seen what a dog can do, or what can happen to a dog running wild, I completely disagree. That is not to say I think dogs should be crated all the time, but crates, from my experience, have benefits.

When I first adopted Nakama a few years ago I had him crated when I went to work, mainly because he was young and I was working on potty training him. He was only in the crate when I went to work or to the store, but was out the rest of the time, including when we slept. Nakama didn’t have as severe an anxiety issue as Tomodachi, but that crate, for the first two years, was his cave of comfort. He had no issues in the crate and at two years he was able to stay out of the crate permanently, which is good because Tomodachi came around quickly thereafter.

Tomodachi has a much more severe case of anxiety. The crate is her comfort zone and she is happy enough to go into the area even when she doesn’t need to (because I am home). I live with anxiety myself as a side-effect of my ASD, so I know full well why a safe zone is a comfort. I crate her fully in the morning, then come home quickly at lunch to let her out for a bathroom break. During the afternoon I let her roam free, which is a plus because she can be with Nakama. He used to glare at me when I put her up as if to say, ‘You brought me this new toy, but you lock it up!?’ I leave the door to the crate open when I leave so if she wants to go inside then she has that option.

Crating a dog is a personal preference. Some dogs can’t go the day without chewing a hole in the wall. Others like to find their human’s shoes! Tomo and Naka have done that, little imps. I will say this, though, as many folks hate the idea of even keeping dogs inside. The dangers in a man made society are not conducive to letting dogs roam. Two hundred years ago, yeah, a dog roaming free was okay. There weren’t people driving vehicles, shooting off guns, and basically taking over the land. Where I live it is well known that the village pays the cullers twenty dollars a dog to keep the population down. If my dogs were running free I can only imagine the torture they might endure, at the hands of humans, mind you. There are also natural issues to worry about such as feral dogs, wolves, and porcupines. Any of those could get at a domesticated animal and kill it pretty quickly. So, yeah, I am all for indoor dogs, in a crate if necessary.

I am not here to make people change their minds regarding indoor dogs and crates. However, I will point out that what may work for one may not work for others. Many people in this village let their dogs run amok. They get quilled, hit by vehicles (and survive), or shot by people and live to see another day. Personally, if that were my dog then I would consider myself an unfit pet parent because I wasn’t monitoring their activities. I’ve seen the poor dogs with broken legs trying to run around. I’ve seen the dogs with quills in their faces countless times. I’ve seen the dogs who were shot by disgusting people. I don’t want that for my dogs. Nakama and Tomodachi are happy enough and we make it outside for occasional (for the moment due to weather and Tomodachi going through her first heat) walks and playing in the snow. Their happiness and safety come first.

Redirection

One of the biggest problems I’ve run into when working with my pups is the constant barrage of ferals running amok. They never stop and quite frankly, their lax owners are to blame. I have been extremely lucky that other critters aren’t running around, though the flying kind so tend to make things interesting, especially since eagles are bigger than both doggos at this point. Frankly, training them had me at a loss. I was speaking with a trainer the other day and she recommended using the same technique I use when trying to get the pups to sit for a picture, only make sure I am doing this when there are distractions. I’ve only had an opportunity to use it a few times with the necessary distractions, but every time it has worked. So, treats all around. I carry treats with me most of the time anyway, but I’ve been lucky enough to have redirected my dogs toward my person. I do worry that this method is going to cause issues with ferals, the children who run around don’t care that I don’t give them a treat. However, when the ferals come around, that is when I will have the true test. Until that time, we practice in the apartment. While in the midst of play I’ll call them for a treat, and if they run over and sit down, they get the yummy.

Gluttony


When I first adopted Nakama in 2018 I had to work with him not to inhale his food. He spent a spell on the street before being hit by the ATV, so he had had to fight for his food at times. I bought a trick bowl and that helped him slow down as he realized he had food, he was not going to starve, and all was going to be right as rain. Well, I didn’t think to be adopting another dog while in the bush, so I gave the trick bowls away and didn’t think anything about it. Jump to 2020 and now I have another pup, but since she has always had food, I didn’t think she would need to learn to slow down. Guess I was wrong! This little dog is a glutton of epic size and eats her food so fast she doesn’t even know when she is full. I was the same way as a child and now I am paying the price in obesity, I do not wish for her to end up like me.

Tomodachi all but inhales her food and I can tell she isn’t chewing due to her scat. There are whole pieces (small, but still not fully digested) of carrot in her feces. Tomo was not chewing her food and her puppy digestive system was not able to digest some of the stuff she eats. So I grabbed this mat I’d purchased for Nakama in August of 2020 and hid her Kibble inside of the felt. Now she has to dig, which has made her slow down, but I had no clue how to give her the food I made (rice, chicken or other meat, and veggies). Putting it in the mat would make the mat disgusting. I posted something on my Instagram account, which goes to my FB account and a good friend (closest I will ever have to having a daughter) mentioned using a Kong. I have one of those I bought for Tomo when she was really small, but it wasn’t played with all that often since I didn’t have anything to stuff it with, until now! Granted, she has only had two meals with both the mat and the Kong, but that little chew toy is getting quite a bit of use now. Nakama doesn’t seem impressed that Tomodachi gets to use it to eat, but I think she we go into Anchorage for her spay this summer we may drop by a Pet Zoo and I can get them both a Kong that I’ll fill with the homemade food I cook for them in the crock. I cannot say for certain how well the Kong is at making her chew her food, but she is definitely eating slower. I will give it a week to see if her digestive system had a much needed break. For the time being, though, after researching Kong on some FB groups and YouTube, I have to say that maybe the Kong is the way to go. The toy is fun to play with, easy to clean, and watching her chase that thing around the apartment is entertaining!

Socializing and Siblings

One of the most common “problems” in my village is socializing one’s pet(s). In truth I find this issue sad because dogs clearly want to be socialized, they are a pack animal and being around others (dogs or otherwise) is important to their morale and self-esteem. I had people tell me that getting a second dog to keep my first one company was a bad idea. I scoff at them. Why would I want to have a companion for my first dog? Well, I work and spend eight or more hours a day at school, so Nakama was at home, by himself, all day. That has to be a lonely lifestyle for someone with an innate pack mentality. Did I adopt Tomodachi just for him? No, I adopted her to be part of our small family, and give Nakama an opportunity to have a sister to boss around (and boy does he ever, such a bully at times!). When I walk the Appalachian Trail I wanted to have a dog, but I realized that Nakama was not going to be able to walk the entire time with me due to his short stature, so I had it in mind to have a second one before the trek so we could go together. I digress, though with this thought, since it is now more about adopting a second than socializing, so let me get back to that.

Unsocialized dogs can be loud, violent, and difficult to control. When I first got Nakama I let him meet up with others in the area to play when we were on our walks. Sadly, many of these dogs he played with remain unsocialized and have even killed other dogs in the area because of dominance. We no longer socialize with these dogs, and for very good reason. Tomodachi is still a puppy and we are now working on her socializing. She is very good at not barking at the other dogs who bark constantly. However, she still pulls quite a bit on her lead, which means I stop what we are doing (usually walking) and pull her back until she sits down. After she sits, then we continue on. Instead of using the term “down” when she jumps on people, I chose “off” and have advised people to push her off when she does (I do the same thing, whether it be when I want her off my person, or off the table). She is learning that she is not to jump on people when we meet them, and I try to have her see people on a daily basis, just so she learns.

The other day I took her for her first social call to another person’s flat. This type of socializing is important so she knows that there is a big world out there, enclosed. Meaning that the world isn’t just the outside where we walk and our small set of rooms, but there are other places with lots of smells and new people. She did rather well with this meeting and my friend was just ecstatic because she loves Nakama and Nakama loves her, too. Tomodachi was rather timid at the beginning, but she opened up and showered my friend with all sorts of love thereafter. I have some cute pictures of both pups on her lap, but chose a different photo to accompany this post for a reason. In this photo I had someone else use treats to get my dogs’ attentions and look at the camera. I’ve been working on them looking at my camera when I take a photo of just the two of them, and it works well. In this case, I wanted them to look at my friend who was taking a family photo, another part of socializing. I was there, so the dogs were safe. My friend has a dog, so she is aware of how to act. Also, my friend is the one who crocheted the neck warmers all three of us are sporting! She has a major talent. The dogs did well, and while only one picture worked, it turned out rather cute.

Socializing is important and these baby steps I am taking with Nakama and Tomodachi are going to benefit them their entire lives. Nakama does well, but is still pretty skittish in situations. I need to focus on that, but it isn’t something easily attained in bush Alaska. One day we will be in a more urban area, or a rural area with more opportunity. Until that time we will work slowly so my pups have the confidence we all three need to walk the Trail in a few years. I want them to meet people and be respectful. I also want to learn how to help them in certain situations. I feel we are on the right track, but I am open to suggestions. I am new at this because even though I had dogs before and grew up with dogs my whole childhood, things have changed in my mind on how we should work with pets. While I am teaching them to socialize with humans and other dogs, they are teaching me how to socialize with them!

Dogs on the Bed

I have people constantly telling me that dogs are dirty and they don’t belong on the bed or the furniture. Well, good on them, they don’t need to allow their ‘pets’ on the bed. Why did I insist on my pups on the bed? Well, dogs supposedly have an innate desire not to ‘mess’ where they sleep. By having the dogs on my bed from the beginning it kept them from messing on the bed, but also helped me wake up to take them out to for a potty break. Both Nakama and Tomodachi nosed me when they needed to go from the time I brought both of them home. The bed isn’t huge, a full-size, but as neither could get off the bed in the beginning without assistance, it helped them easily night train. I still had to get up multiple times a night with Tomo, Nakama was older when he came to live with me, so he only needed one break a night from the beginning. Now, at four months, Tomodachi can make it through the night most nights, other times she needs one break, but she always wakes me. As for being on the bed or the sofa, they can cuddle with me on these pieces of furniture, and I want to have a bond with them, not treat them as objects. My fur-family, my choice. I chose their names intentionally, companion and friend. To me, they are not pets, they are family.

First Solo Walk!

Today was a beaut of a day, so Tomodachi had her first solo walk. Now, by walk I mean that it wasn’t her going out to the approved relief area and sniffing, but an actual half-Mile of walking. Took us twenty minutes. I didn’t require much of her since she is just four months old, however we are going to start working heavily on her not pulling. I didn’t attach the leash to the ‘no pull’ part of the harness, but her next solo walk I definitely will. We worked on ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ ‘watch,’ and ‘walk.’ today. She is still learning and I believe will get better much faster if we do solo walks a couple times a week. After her walk, which included skating on the ice rink that is our roads, she and Nakama decided to have a wrestling match on the bed. Clearly he missed her while she was gone, but they both need to get used to being alone at times since training them together all the time will not work.

The ‘Come’ Game

I was all excited to start the New Year off with Tomodachi going on her first, solo walk. Weather happened, meaning I will never take my pups out in inclement weather they themselves choose to avoid. Today it happened to be 30 mph winds. None of us are fond of walks in the wind. Bring on snow for all, and Nakama and I will happily walk in the rain, but wind isn’t a condition we like. So, training today was what I like to call ‘Come.’ This game, as it were, is when I go to a different room I will wait a spell and say: Nakama, come. Tomodachi, come. When the come I give them a treat. Now, I do not do this every time I switch rooms, and I do keep treats in all rooms, including the bathroom. I do not want them learning to follow me everywhere and expect to get a treat, they need to learn the command. Nakama is actually pretty good, or was before I started this game, but he can be a seriously stubborn punk, so at times he sticks his nose up at the treats and does not come. He will learn, though. Tomo comes running, she loves treats and head rubs!

Slow and Patient




I had a plan, that was of course derailed, to share how I worked with my dogs on the command “ignore” because they really need to learn to ignore the unwanted elements in the area. Instead my first training is more physical and that is teaching “slow” and “patience.” Nakama is pretty good with “patience” already and if I say that he will generally sit and chill. Tomodachi is still learning, but she learned to sit while watching Nakama, so she will eventually follow his lead.
 
As for “slow,” my reason for skipping “ignore” and moving to “slow” is because two little doggies like to go outside in the fastest way possible. What this means is they pull like no tomorrow when we are going down the stairs, or at least they did. Nakama hadn’t had much of an issue with stairs because before this year we were on the first floor, so there was no risk of me falling down a flight of stairs because of his thirty-pound body excitedly moving down the stairs to get outside. With Tomodachi it is a different story. Tomo is going to be (by my best guess) at least fifty pounds, or more. Fifty pounds on its own would be enough with the physics of movement and the mass to cause me to fall, but add Naka’s thirty pounds and movement to that it was a wreck waiting to happen. So, here we go with working on the command “slow.”
 
I’ve moved them to walking behind me rather than in front by having them wait at the top of the stairs. If they start to go down then I bring them back up and tell them to be patient. This command has gone over pretty well, but if there are distractions, such as other dogs or people, then they still get excited. “Ignore” is on my list for next, so hopefully that alleviates the excitement after we are better at slowly going down the stairs.
 
In addition to making them walk behind me, I enforce this by using my electric cane as a block. My body is not as wide as the stairs, so the cane acts as a second barrier that they do not breach. Now, before anyone comes at me for the electronic stick, it is not turned on, nor would I ever use it on my dogs. My reason for carrying the cane is because there are feral dogs running amok in my Alaskan village and quite a few of them are violent. I’ve been in dog fights before where the cane has come in handy to ward off the unwanted dogs. Now the dogs in the area know I have no problem using the cane and show their submissive behavior when I tell them to go away and hold the cane in front of me.
 
Luckily for me, I’ve never had to use the cane on a wild creature. It is overly sad I’ve had to use it on the pets in the area that owners let loose to run rampant. I am not going to take any chances with feral dogs coming after Naka or Tomo. As a fur-parent, I made a vow to protect them and I aim to continue that until they are ready to cross the rainbow bridge.
 
It is kind of amusing that I did choose Slow and Patient as my first two commands to discuss, because that is how training works. I need to take it slow and have patience. Keeping those two commands in mind for myself as well as my puppers, I am sure we are gonna find lots of success in our training.