My apologies for letting this blog on Bixie lag for so long. Once too much time goes by, procrastination sets in and then the resistance gets really high. So I’m not going to try to be aesthetic (not that one might notice), just keep it crisp and chronicled. The main way of bonding with Bixie has been walks in the woods. Even if I lived in a city I would seek out the quiet streets and the less frequented areas of a park. And I certainly wouldn’t take her to dog parks for play sessions. We’d have a few doggy friends after I had the chance to get to know the dog, a few play sessions spread out so that she played once in a while, but the main thing would be to gain contact with her so I can be her problem solving faculty whenever she gets in over her head, which in her case was at first almost everything. Unfortunately however even though I live in the middle of the woods, when we’re out there she would take off, following her eyes mainly after the flutter of a bird or the chirp and bolt of a chipmunk, of which we here in Southern Vermont have in a bumper abundance. Walking down a trail with a dog on the prowl trips the chipmunk squeak alarm system about every ten yards. It feels like walking on a suspension bridge with high tension wires sequentially snapping. So rather than feeding her in a bowl, I would feed her on these “core walks” by pushing, barking, getting up on a rock and collecting, whole body suppling and then the occasional bite and carry. The next step was to give her more freedom letting her drag a shorter lead that didn’t get easily tangled and introduce the “Ready” positive interrupt. (I would only feed her on these walks. I wouldn’t feed her out of a bowl and then go out. Why feed the problem?) So when she would stray a little ahead, I’d say in a way that suggests a lot of energy, “RReeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaddddddddiiiiiiiieeeeeeee ……………… and when she looks back at me, I’d be in the poised “Ready” position with some food clasped in hand, and she’d come charging back to me either for a bark, a collect, or a rub-a-dub. Below are two videos from last summer, sorry about the quality, that show her response in the woods, and her beginning to develop a look back when she starts to get too far ahead. I want to emphasize that this is not coming-when-called. I call it a positive interrupt which is a halfway hallmark of coming when called. I’m simply creating a circuit, a channel that will cause her to feel a pull to me when the chipmunks snap the trip wire and make a run for it. The work remains to harden this circuit and then I’ll be able to command and demand. By then I will have buckled down on the obedience routine.
In the first video she’s lost in the ferns on a chipmunk sortie and then charges hard at the “Ready” which I’m using here to get her familiar to a hard command-like sound since I know she’s in the right disposition in this moment. We can see in her bark how she has to dig deep in order to get it to “catch.” In the second we’re leaving the woods and I’m happy to see her looking back and then eager to make contact when I whistle. I want running and searching for me to be a more powerful experience than chasing chipmunks. To do that I need hunger over balance or else there will be side effects when control is applied and with a damaged dog like Bixie there is no margin for error. She has no innate buffering capacity left to compensate for poor handling. That was long ago exhausted so that her nerves are as tautly wound as the chipmunks she is so attuned to. (The faithful Hessian makes a cameo appearance.)
Just to fast forward to today, she now is mainly out of the crate when indoors, with a safety line on should she get herself into something that requires our intercession. She’s starting to be a great house dog and good company. Here after a walk porpoising through snow drifts she’s probably dreaming of ferns yet to part in the pursuit of the elusive chipmunk.