I ran into a mountain neighbor the other day. I know her from when her dog and K were puppies, and they'd play together. My neighbor, of course, wanted to know all about Shyla. After expounding on how wonderful Shyla is, I started talking about our training and all the hard work we're doing. Her question was: Why?
I was momentarily flummoxed. It's so natural to me that I'd train and socialize Shyla so that she can go anywhere and do almost anything with me that I didn't have an answer on the tip of my tongue.
After we parted ways, I kept mulling over her question. I realized that the Runner and I ask a lot of our dogs. We ask them to be partners in our family for all sorts of activities. We do long trips to the deserts and the mountains of the west, living out of our camping van and adapting to whatever conditions we find. In total, we spend about 6-8 weeks per year living that way.
We take our dogs to our friends' and family's houses in the big city, Denver, and we want them to be comfortable in the urban environment that clashes so completely with our everyday life. Most years, we take our dogs trick-or-treating with our nephews. The dogs walk the streets with the hordes of kids in costumes without blinking an eye at the outrageous scene. (We're going to wait a year before asking Shyla to try that one - but we hope that she'll adapt to kids and other crazy stuff enough to be able to do it next year).
In addition, on a daily basis, we are out in the woods, often at sunrise and sunset, and we expect our dogs to resist the temptation of chasing animals. We expect them to come when called even if they're in the midst of a squirrel convention, an elk herd, or a coyote gathering. Of course, the dogs are never perfect because they are living beings... but as long as they can stay out of danger, we are happy.
So, we expect a lot of our dogs. To do all those things, they need to know a very large vocabulary of "commands", and they need to be able to deal with novel situations easily. So far, with tons of hard work, all of our Labs have been able to do it.
I guess that our lifestyle explains why I am working so hard with Shyla that I am actually exhausted (more so than Shyla, I think). We work on "commands" every single day. Today, I had her sit, down, and stand in one spot, depending on which one I asked for, while I stood about 30' away by a trail. The main idea is that she learns to listen to me and follow cues from a distance, since that's key to good off-leash behavior.
I had her do her sits, downs, and stands on a boulder so that she wouldn't inch toward me when she switched from one position to another. That's a common mistake that young dogs make.
I work on "stays" with Shyla daily. I even practice going out of her sight while she's in a stay (although I'm often peeking at her without her knowing it). I use stays frequently in daily life, when we're in town or on the trails. For example, I ask her to "stay" while I pick up her poop next to a sidewalk in town or while I take a photo in the woods. Today, she practiced a stay in the pine forest.
She also did a stay while I took this photo of a bright rose hip.
Moreover, the bond between people and dogs grows even stronger through the shared experience of training. I love training dogs... unlike a lot of other people. I think that a big reason why K and I had such a strong bond was all the training that we did together - we did so much together that words were no longer needed for us to communicate by the end of her life. I'm quite sure that a dog can be happy without all the training that we do... but I couldn't be!
So, Shyla and I will keep pecking away at our list of things to learn and to experience. And, we'll have fun in the process - I have no doubt about that. She's leaping with joy!