Co-Workers and Trigger Stacking
Believe it or not, this is Brady hard at work with me on Saturday.
I had walks scheduled this weekend with my longtime client, Blueberry Buddy, and Brady and Rhys were my co-workers for the weekend.
Blueberry Buddy was my first daily walking client and I’ve walked him since he was a bratty teenager. He has the distinction of having an adult beverage named for him by a dear friend who heard my tales of exhaustion regarding him. He is my only client who has this distinction. Don’t fret though, there will likely be others. Blueberry Buddy isn’t quite his real name, but it’s close enough.
And in case you were wondering, Blueberry Buddy, the adult beverage, is delicious.
Blueberry Buddy is a very good boy these days and is one of the few dogs I’ve had stay with me at my house. I rarely have dogs stay as my crew are extremely particular about their friends and if anyone is staying at the house, they must abide by The Rules. Border Collie Rules.
I’m not even going to attempt to explain The Rules. They are numerous and they are very strict. People with border collies might understand.
I was a bit apprehensive the first time Blueberry Buddy met YoBaCaRy, therefore, he met them in stages. Rhys was a puppy at the time and had not yet developed the affliction known as Border Collie Prejudice, so he was an easy and natural first choice. Rhys thought Blueberry Buddy was pretty awesome. Youke, Brady and Camm did not. Blueberry Buddy is a labrador retriever and as a fairly young one is especially bouncy and happy and forward. Being bouncy, happy and forward is against The Rules. Youke was dismayed and made a beeline for the furthest point away. Brady was disgusted and pissy and made a beeline for the furthest point away, but not before vocalizing his disgust.
Blueberry Buddy was dismayed and sad that no one wanted to be friends. So he set his sights on Camm.
Right. Imagine how well that went over.
Camm initially ignored this giant black beast. But when he made a move on her, she quickly informed him of The Rules.
No looking at Camm.
No trying to play with Camm.
Camm is never going to be your friend. Never.
Also, don’t piss off Camm’s boys or play too rough with Rhys, because Camm will kick your ass.
Blueberry Buddy, for all of his exuberance and lack of border collie etiquette, is actually a very sweet and smart dog. He quickly learned that when you live with border collies, but you are not a border collie. at least at my house, you barely twitch and you are very polite. Also, you ask Camm’s permission first, but if you have to ask, basically you probably shouldn’t do it. Especially if it involves toys in the house.
Once The Rules were established and Blueberry Buddy learned them, everyone got along. Camm has even been on a hike and out for walks with him and has peacefully co-existed with him in my living room while we all chill and I watch TV or read.
Therefore, this weekend I figured it would be a nice change of pace for BB , as well as for myself, if I had a co-worker along. Rhys was my first choice since he and Blueberry Buddy have actually wrestled and played so nicely in the past, even playing gentle bitey-face games. However, Brady has been stressed of late from the lack of sufficient activity due to my schedule of the past couple of weeks and I suspect pissy because he isn’t really doing any agility right now, classes or competition. So I decided to bring him.
Brady was ecstatic about being chosen. Then, he was slightly less ecstatic when he saw that it wasn’t going to be just he and I. Nonetheless, after I made it clear that he was my co-worker, he politely sat while Blueberry jumped in the Jeep with him and then surprised me by not even grumbling about it.
What happened next almost brought me to tears. Brady and Blueberry Buddy walked side by side, sniffed side by side, wagged tails together at passers by, ignored dogs together as we passed them by, and Peed on Many Things together.
Sometimes it just wacks me upside of the head how far Brady has come. Blueberry Buddy is the epitome of the kind of dog Brady used to have such a huge aversion toward.
Blueberry, who suffers from a medical condition and sometimes seems a bit down, was perky and delighted to have Brady along on his walk. So many smells! So very many things to pee on! A friend!
Because it was Saturday, because it was a nice day to be outside and because the two boys brought a fresh perspective to one another that just made me grin, we went beyond the allotted time by 30 minutes or so, just enjoying our surroundings. Both dogs collapsed in the Jeep together for the short drive back to Blueberry Buddy’s house. BB is a good sized dog and Brady is not a small border collie and the Jeep isn’t big. They were touching, but no grumbling emanated from Brady.
This was not the first time Brady has been my co-worker, and I’m selective about when he comes along. In fact, he hasn’t come with me for a long time. Between his duties as BB’s walking pal and all the social media he had to digest, I decided he deserved a hamburger before we went back home ourselves.
Brady was wiped out the rest of the day and I took the other three dogs on a walk.
On Sunday, I decided Rhys would be my co-worker.
I knew that Rhys has since, and predictably, developed Border Collie Prejudice – a condition whereby other dogs are not generally thought of as being too cool, unless they are: 1) a border collie, or 2) another herding breed, or) 3) a dog with whom one has developed a previous relationship and/or is owned by a human friend/auntie. Rhys hadn’t seen Blueberry Buddy is some time and I figured they’d enjoy seeing each other.
Wrong. At least initially.
Rhys is three years old and is often an ass.
Maybe Rhys didn’t recognize BB at first, but more likely he was being an assertive, resource guarding jerk when Blueberry Buddy grinned at his old friend and went to jump into the vehicle with him.
After I explained to Rhys that being a jerk was not an option if he was going to work with me, he settled down and allowed Blueberry Buddy to jump in with him. I heard a bit of muted grumbling from Rhys as we drive to our destination, because like Brady, Rhys frequently finds the need to pass comment on various situations. Sometimes this is highly amusing, particularly when he seems to be engaging in a running dialogue with himself about some matter, but sometimes it is super annoying, particularly when the vocalizing is at full volume and I’ve already heard 53 times about: 1) the dog he sees walking/running, 2) the people he sees running/riding bikes/riding a skateboard, 3) how much longer is it going to take to get to the hiking trail/park/agility barn.
Once Rhys became reacquainted with Blueberry Buddy and once he realized that his job was to walk with us on an urban hike, he was all in.
Urban hikes are absolutely exhausting for my dogs. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything else in their lives that is that exhausting.
I love to watch my dogs. Watching Brady and Rhys this weekend and seeing the world on those two walks through their eyes, really, their noses, was intense.
When we go off hiking in the woods, their noses are constantly processing information. I do see intensity at times, but their demeanor is far different. Their bodies are softer. Their faces are more relaxed. They seem more curious than concerned. When we walk in town, they are stiffer, their faces more intensely concentrated and I see concern more often in their expressions.
Rhys in particular was also responsive to the energy of the other dogs and people he encountered on our walk with Blueberry Buddy. And the two dogs definitely reacted to the energy given off at various times from one another. Brady used to do this more too, but I think time and experience, and tools I’ve taught and given to him, has helped him to handle things with a more even keel.
When I first started my business I had visions of my dogs joining me more frequently on client walks. However, I have a fair amount of reactive dog clients and I walk a good number of multiple dogs from the same families. I have a personal rule that I’ll never walk a pack of dogs unless they’re my own dogs.
I’ve also come to realize just what a challenge it is to walk a dog in an urban environment. And I’m not talking about asphalt, engines backfiring or the plethora of dog pee to sniff.
Sometimes people just plain suck.
After several 60-minute walks today, I still found myself ending work at a decent time on a beautiful February day in the Pacific Northwest, and with enough time to take my own dogs out. I didn’t have sufficient time really to take them to a more remote spot for a true hike, but figured we could find some local parks to hang out and walk. I opted to split the four up into two separate twosomes as walking all four in a more urban environment, especially on leash, is for a soul far braver than I most of the time.
Peaceful lake view late today on walk number one.
My walk with Youke and Rhys was wonderful. Quiet and peaceful. We even made a brief sojourn into the local off-leash dog park since it was almost unoccupied. I think we concerned a few people who watched as I played hide and seek with my boys among the trees in the park. Sorry, I prefer to engage with my dogs rather than just stand there in the middle of the park on my mobile device while my overweight dog meanders aimlessly about.
After a 90-minute walk with Youke and Rhys, I dropped them off at home and gathered up Brady and Camm for a sunset walk at a different park.
Maybe I should’ve stopped at walk number one. I was admittedly getting pretty tired and I’d walked a lot of dogs for a lot of hours by the time of walk number two. However, Brady and Camm have become delightful to walk most places with. The fact that I just wrote that is shocking to me. It’s true though. That’s what happens when you put in umpteen hours of training, years of work, buckets of tears, and live to see them become senior dogs.
Brady and Camm did not let me down. They were perfect tonight. I, however, was by the end of the walk ready to explode and ready to bite.
Trigger stacking is defined in dog training as “Stress accumulation due to exposure of multiple triggers, either simultaneously or close enough in time that the dog’s reactivity has not returned to normal. For example if a sound sensitive dog who’s afraid of children hears a loud crash before he sees a child, he is more likely to bite than if he had met the child under calmer circumstances..” (Grisha Stewart, BAT 2.0, P. 276).
Shortly after we entered park number two, Brady had to poop. Brady is not a big fan of pooping in his own yard, therefore often has to poop shortly upon his arrival somewhere else. No big deal. I’m always prepared with poop bags.
As Brady was accomplishing this important task, I saw a woman striding toward us on the narrow paved trail. No big deal, I thought, she’ll just veer around us on the grass.
Keep in mind I have two wriggling dogs, on leashes, that think this person would like to meet them, I have one of my hands encased in a poop bag and am bent over commencing the poop pick-up. Am I wrong in thinking that the proper and polite thing to do would be to steer a wider berth around this individual with two wriggling dogs, entangled in their leashes, bent over and now with poop in her bagged hand by venturing into the grass a little bit and NOT TO COME STRIDING DOWN THE PATH RIGHT INTO THE MIDST OF THE DOGS????
“Sit! Sit! They must think I have treats!”
I was wordless as I tried to juggle wriggly border collies, tangled leashes and poop in the only two hands I have.
She seemed a bit perturbed that I did not have the situation under better control.
“I was just trying to pick up this poop,” I explained.
“Thanks for picking up!” she said breezily as she swung on by, striding right down the center of the path in the nearly deserted section of the park.
I muttered some not very nice things, but my edit function doesn’t work so well these days so I’m quite sure some of it came out a bit louder than intended.
After disposing of Brady’s package, and then dealing with Camm’s 30 seconds later, we walked on to another distasteful encounter. This one was with a labradoodle on a flexi-lead. I have this encounter nearly every day with client dogs and am well-versed on how to handle it. I spotted the approach well ahead of time, and unlike the woman striding down the middle of the path, I found that we had the ability and dexterity to veer off in a C-shape into the grass, thus avoiding the orbit of the labradoodle. Camm and Brady were both immensely relieved that would not be falling victim to a flailing labradoodle on a string.
We then successfully navigated some couples out on a post-Valentines Monday sunset cruise, a few running children and some power walkers. We were very nearly accosted, again, by the labradoodle as his/her people seemed to be curious about why Camm was perched on a big rock, and as Brady was conducting his second poop evacuation of the walk, steering in for a closer look. Luckily, becoming furious gives me a heightened sense of awareness and I was able to pick up the poop and tie off the poop bag with alacrity while simultaneously asking Camm to step down toward me.
It was by then nearly dark and I just wanted to get back to the car. Brady was being incredibly awesome, as was Camm. Poor Camm kept looking back at me and then bumping me with her nose, her sign to see if everything was alright. I informed her that she was being fantastic and very well-behaved.
And then we ran into That Guy. That guy with the friendly dog. That guy with his dog out at the end of the leash staring hard at my dogs with all of his weight thrust forward and with his shoulders tight. That guy who shouts at me that his dog is very friendly and just wants to say “hi” to mine.
Interestingly, the dog was a border collie or border collie mix. Ordinarily Brady thinks other border collies are cool. He did not think this dog was cool. I try to teach my dogs that aren’t fond of other dogs, especially when my dogs are on leash, to ignore other dogs. Both Brady and Camm were doing a remarkable job of trying to ignore that dog. We were in the process of giving it a wide berth and every thing about my body language screamed, NO, GO AWAY!
But if you can’t read human body language, you most certainly cannot ready dog body language.
Rather than avoid us or even continue onward through the park, this guy started coming toward us, no doubt dragged in part by his “friendly” dog.
“WE ARE NOT SAYING HI! WE ARE NOT MEETING YOUR DOG! I didn’t exactly shout it, but my tone was firm and unmistakable. So much so that a couple with a kid turned around to look for a second.
Brady and Camm couldn’t take it any longer. Both growled and issued warning barks.
That guy and his “friendly” dog hastened on after that, no doubt wondering why anyone would dare to take such mean dogs out in public.
I was so thankful and relieved to get back to my vehicle and slam the door shut.
For our next adventure, we’re going back to the woods.