Strider and I got to go to camp this year… I could talk about how excited I was and how it was a long ass drive. I could also go into detail about how I spent weeks and months vacillating between pulling him and deciding to keep our working spot but really I’m going to talk about the experience.
I went in with extremely unrealistic expectations. Not for Strider but for the other people there. I expected people with working spots especially to be polite and respectful of the rest of us with working spots. It was… only true of many but not all and one person can literally ruin it for you.
Strider has issues with people getting in his space especially when they haven’t been introduced. So there I admitted on the internet that the dog I adore and think is perfect is not behaviorally perfect. (FYI this admission is not permission for you to contact me with unsolicited advice, I’m not interested in any of it, if I want your advice on my dog’s behavior I will contact you outright.) Frankly I prefer him to our overly friendly rescue rottie, he is a more pleasant dog to live with and work with, he is fun and a hard worker and he adores me. I talked to several people with experience with IPO (schutzhund/bite sport whatever you want to call it) bred dogs and his behavior is typical of these type of dogs so I feel better about that knowing it does have a strong genetic component to it. That information alone made the weekend worth both ends of 18 hours of driving.
I signed us up to work in labs that I felt would be the most helpful for Strider’s struggles as well as the trainers I felt would understand him the most. That meant we were signed up to work with Amy Cook and Shade Whitesel all weekend. Amy has several classes that help with reactive dogs and Shade has lots of really good toy and marker classes targeted more towards IPO. Its excellent information no matter your sport.
Our first day we were signed up for Reactive dog management (Amy) and Toy play (Shade). We made it through reactive dog management with no issues in spite of the lady who obviously did not have a reactive dog and was not interested in learning how to manage him in any way. I felt really good about it, we were fine and he is a rockstar.
Well reactive dog management was just before lunch and toy play was just after lunch. So Strider got no break because I hurried him into his crate, grabbed lunch ate, and ran him out to give him a chance to pee and go for a walk. I think that was probably not a good choice for him. I should have let him pee and left him up. We went in and tried to pick a spot were there wouldn’t be tons of activity or near other dogs before our turn… yeah so “reactive not actually reactive or managed dog” and his human came in and literally walked up to where we were sitting. Did I mention this dog is the kind of dog, Strider particularly has a problem with? Well surprise, he is! So we fled to another part of the room to avoid her and another lovely lady moves us chair and our stuff over to us so we could sit, which I greatly appreciated. We worked our first round and started fixing my mechanics which is really what needed to be done for us to progress.
The real trouble happened when someone walked up behind us and got into our space before I knew she was there. Strider reacted and barked and lunged (no he didn’t try to bite her because if he had she would have been bit) and scared the crap out of her and really me. I put him up and found her to apologize later. Too little too late apparently. I got a phone call during the last session of the day that I needed to come find someone to talk to them about my dog. My first thought was actually that someone had bothered him and he was barking in his crate. When I realized he was fine in his crate still I knew we were in trouble. So, we were actually being told we could no longer work for the rest of the weekend. I was upset by this point and I was even more upset at the end of the conversation. I am not going to call anyone out or name names but I still am pretty pissed days later that I was told that I “should get a lab next time”. I didn’t realize I was such a piss poor trainer that someone who has literally never seen us work could tell that my skills are such that I am not allowed to have the breed I adore and instead have to get one I have no desire to live with. Generally this person is very nice and maybe didn’t realize she came across like she did with that comment which is really why I am not call her out by name.
Honestly I contemplated packing up and leaving that day to come home. I didn’t and I am glad I didn’t. With the help of Sam (our camp neighbor and new Canadian friend) Amy Cook came, found me and talked me down, or actually just talked me into staying a night and sleeping on it. So I stayed and I stewed and I made sure to put Strider in a muzzle to walk him through anywhere both as a statement because I was pissed and because then everyone who was worried about him had literally nothing to worry about. Sarah Stremming and I have been friends since our days in the dog daycare trenches togetehr and she got there at the end of the second day in time to be a shoulder for me to cry on again (sorry! and thank you seriously). And by the time I was going to bed at the end of day 2 I was able to establish that I was more pissed by the lab remark than being asked to give up out working shot though frustrated because of that as well.
On day 2 I attended Judging pressure with Amy, part of Denise’s heeling session (I left early to let Strider go pee before lunch time). Play without Toys with Amy(which was not the lab I’d signed up to work that session but I felt like it might give me more important ideas for helping Stri than Shade’s Location Specific Markers) and Shade’s Reducing reinforcement lecture. I got a lot of good information even if I really wanted to work Strider in a Judging Pressure because that is literally exactly what we needed.
I also found 2 special stones on Strider’s crate on day 2 which I am grateful for today but that day I was mostly still angry. (Hell be happy I am mostly fine now, I have a short fuse and long memory for stuff that pisses me off). I know at least once volunteer found me crying in front of his crate at the end of day 1 and brought me water and another attendee gave me a banana so obviously my distress overall was… noticeable. But that is beside the point, we got 2 so we might be extra special.
Day 3 I attended both of Sarah’s lectures (Is my dog ok? and Behavioral wellness) as well as Lori Steven’s conditioning lab. The other lab time I spent talking to Amy Cook (I really like her, she is a great person) and formulating a plan for Strider to work on his reactivity and sensitivity to humans in his space. Its completely different than anything else we’ve done with our other trainers/friends/veterinary behaviorist. We did a bit of work in Amy’s online class Dealing with the Bogyman but this is still different from that too. We’ll be revisiting some of that stuff too, frankly I got lazy when we started moving last year and Strider matured quite a bit so he didn’t “need” it in the same way so I let it slide. I’m actually really excited to give it a go and will be dragging local friends into being my assistants over the next little while.
Since we couldn’t participate we loaded up on day 4 and hit the road (after I spent a ton of money on toys and pictures of us from our one day of working).
Overall once I adjusted my expectations it was a good experience. I really prefer working spots because I learn better from hands on doing of stuff but I will manage just fine from my notes and conversations. Because I love training and that is what is most important for me to retain information. I’m not sure I’ll attend again, not because it was a bad experience but because frankly traveling 18 hours one way again next year isn’t high up on my financial priorities list. If it ends up closer or in a state I’m dying for an excuse to visit I might go in the future but for now its up in the air. I will still do the online classes with FDSA so that hasn’t changed.