September 30, 2022

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Confession: My dog training failure

I am a worrier.

I also have a wildly overactive imagination.

The imagining thing serves me well in my job, but – combined with the worrying – it’s an epic fail when it comes to dog training.

This past weekend, Cooper was invited to a doggy play date at this really peaceful park out in a pretty rural area of southern Indiana. I jump on any opportunity to do something new with Cooper, especially if it includes meeting lots of new dogs, so I agreed. But I hesitated.

The problem?

The park wasn’t fenced in. At all.

So I took John, too, because I figured he’d be able to chase down Cooper if he ran awry.

(Quick aside: I’ve been working on recall with Cooper nonstop. We practice every day. In fact, I took him to the fenced in park today to practice. It’s just that Lucas is an escape artist and a runner, so I’m never, ever, ever confident in having these guys off leash. Unless we’re in a fully-enclosed park. Because my over-active, worry-filled imagination has imagined every worst case scenario that could possibly happen if Lucas got away. So I really, really want Cooper to be reliable since we have the opportunity to start with him so young.)

Here’s what happened:

All the dogs got along swimmingly. I unclipped Cooper’s leash, and they started running and chasing each other. It was super muddy because of all the rain, so the dogs were having a blast digging and pouncing and tackling each other.

Two of the dogs tore off away from the people with Cooper in hot pursuit.

I grabbed John’s arm. “That’s too far. They’re too far away. We couldn’t get there fast enough if something happens. That’s TOO FAR.”

“They’re fine,” he said.

So then I started thinking… This is super rural. What if he gets lost? What if he wants to come back, but he can’t find his way? The other dogs are so much faster; they probably left him in their wake, and he’s probably in the woods freaking out because he can’t figure out how to get back or where his friends went. There was a house a few miles down the road with like 30 cats crawling across their front porch. What if he ends up there and the cats attack him and they have some weird disease that’s transmittable from cat to dog? Or what if someone grabs him and wants to keep him, so they take his collar off instead of calling us? I bet there’s a pack of coyotes out there. What if he runs into their den or crosses the mama out looking for food? Or what if he runs to the road that’s like 5 miles away and is hit by a car? What if he eats a frog?

I squinted along the tree line and started to walk in that direction. I could not believe all the other people were so calm and they couldn’t see their dogs! Where, oh where, had Cooper gone?

“John, I’m panicking.”

“I can see that,” he said.

Of course, 30 seconds later, Cooper burst out of the trees and sprinted straight for us. The other two dogs weren’t with him, but they followed another 30 seconds after Cooper. So then I nearly burst because I was so flipping proud of him for coming back so quickly and with such enthusiasm. I spent the entire hour showering him with treats. If he even glanced in my direction, I chased him down to give him treats.

“Even though he just ran with a pack of dogs for the last hour,” John said, “I think he ate more calories than he burned.”

I didn’t care. He came back. Every. single. time.

Will I be more confident the next time we attend this play date? Probably not… but I’m working on it. And Cooper’s using positive reinforcement to train me to be confident in him, you know, since he came back each time.

As we climbed into the car, Cooper was asleep before he was settled into the backseat.

“Did you get any good pictures or videos?” John asked. “Or were you too busy panicking.”

“Panicking.”

Maybe next time.