Friday, April 17, 2015

Mental Workouts on Walks


In the winter, our walks are purely for physical exercise. They are our chance to get out of our yard--even if it's only for 10 minutes--and stretch our legs. Most of our mental exercise is done at home inside through nose works, focus games, working on tricks. There are no distractions in our winter wonderland--no birds, no squirrels, no other walkers/joggers/bikers/skateboarders. It's just me and my girl and the occasional train.

In the spring, though, walks start to be physical and mental exercise--and for the first time in months a walk actually wears Barley out. Barley's the type of dog who can get hours of physical exercise, but if her brain isn't tired, she'll still find the physical energy to get herself into trouble. 

In our neighborhood, we practice reaction to distraction at almost every turn. One night, we were just trying to get in a quick 1.5-mile evening walk before settling in for the night. We were on our way through the back entrance to our complex and I noticed a loose dog in the parking lot. A few people were out trying to catch it and a girl moved into the gap in the fence that we were aiming through to block the exit for the dog. Barley and I did a quick turn and walked the .5-miles back to the main entrance. Around the corner, we encountered a loose Yorkie--luckily, it was tiny and Barley didn't notice it from across the street and it was preoccupied with sniffing something, so we picked up the pace to get back to our apartment before that changed. Of course, the loose dog was still evading capture, which made our walk full of twists and turns as we dodged behind different buildings so the dogs didn't notice each other. Barley got lots of "what's that" practice and the interesting walking pattern we did to get back to the door kept Barley on her toes.

The parks are a much more fun way to work mental exercise into our walks. At the beach, sometimes Barley gets a little worked up when her toes hit the sand (I think she's sensitive to texture changes). She starts herding me and nipping if I move, so we get to practice the downs we've spent so much time working on when she gets worked up in agility.

Barley's "I know I was naughty, but do I really have to down in the damp sand?" face.


We also get to practice returning to heel. I'll let Barley walk ahead of me at parks as long as she's responsive and comes back to heel when I ask. Since we don't have to worry about dogs dashing out of yards along the trails, I can usually spot distractions with enough time to call her back to heel, so I don't mind giving her a little more freedom to sniff along the trail as long as she'll come back to my side.

Look how smiley she is when she focuses on me.

New things wash up on the beach at the lake regularly, so we get to practice various tricks as we walk along the lake. Sometimes we do balance work on random objects and work in a little distance work on our stays (only for a few seconds and only if there's not a sole in sight). Sometimes we practice "leave it" with the gross dead fish that wash up on shore. Other times, we work on building her confidence around birds.


She'll happily "go table," but she's over smiling for the camera.

Birds were having some sort of feeding frenzy in the lake behind her. 

When we visit our deer friends, Barley also practices responding to commands. She has to sit and watch. She has to stay. She makes it look easy, but I imagine it's probably really hard for her to smile for the camera when she has deer so close behind her.


We also got to practice her reaction to these turkeys.

This week we got a lot of great mental work while setting a new record for the year with 32.99 miles this week (yes--that .99 is going to drive me crazy).

Soth also got a little outdoor time this week--on Monday we got up to a beautiful 78 degrees (if you haven't gotten there don't be jealous--we're back to grey and 50 degrees today), so after Barley and I took our evening walk, Soth and I went out on the back porch to watch the birds together. 


I call this look Serengeti chic. He's such a handsome little lion. 

He's not as good as his sister is at looking at the camera instead of the wildlife, but he's still pretty adorable.



24 comments:

  1. Barley is really a lucky dog to have such a conscientious mom. You work so hard with her - she's a lucky girl.

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    1. Thank you! I'm lucky to have such a fun dog to get me out of the house--even if she does give me more grey hairs!

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  2. I love Barley's smile! She's so cute! I'm sorry that the walks have been kind of stressful lately! Also, thanks for nominating me for Molly's blog! <3

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    1. Thank you! Her smile is one of my favorite things in the world. Luckily, this week the walks haven't been the bad kind of stressful--just the keeping me on my toes kind of stressful :) And I love seeing your girls pictures, so I thought that Molly's blog would help share them with even more people!

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  3. Congrats on the great week! I imagine the new challenges that spring brings are mentally challenging for you too, not just Barley.
    Soth really is a cutie, and must have enjoyed that nice fresh air!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. Thank you! Our walks are definitely shaking the cobwebs out of my brain after our mind-numbing winter! Soth loves to be outside--he's quite the escape artist if I'm not careful, so on nice days, we try to go out and listen to an inning or two of a ball game together :) He also knows that he's only allowed on the bench or on my lap (since otherwise he insists on going out and eating grass that he comes back inside and immediately barfs up), so it's one of the few times I can get him to be a lap cat, which is nice!

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  4. It is a good workout for both of you. Good work on the mileage.

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    1. Thank you! It was exciting to finally get our first 30+ week of the year! I'm hoping we can keep that up for a while.

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    1. It always amazes me when her prints are in a straight line because her front end and back end are never on the same page!

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  6. Our weather isn't quite as extreme as your so Mr. N still gets a lot of distractions during the winter. But come spring and sunny days, ALL the dogs come crawling out of the woodwork. Mostly fat ones.

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    1. Most of the dogs we're seeing now are pretty fat, too, so we're usually able to change direction and get out of sight before they get to us! I think our neighborhood acquired a few new dogs over the winter, too, so that's making things exciting. We've been loving the overcast days when nobody else is out walking even though it's finally warmer!

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  7. Sounds like you had a great week. Did they ever catch the Yorkie?

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    1. The Yorkie may have been on a tie out--it was too far away to tell, so we just hurried home before we could find out. I saw the other dog in it's fenced yard today, so I think they caught it--I tossed Bar in her crate and grabbed some treats, but by the time I got back out, they weren't in the parking lot, so until tonight I wasn't sure if it was caught or had moved to a new location, but it made it home.

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  8. Love all the pictures! Did Bar get a new leash? The .99 would drive me crazy, too!!

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    1. I got her purple leash when we got her purple collar--I think in September--but we only use it for agility, so I don't have to always take the bag holder off the leash before class (because that makes it too hard to fit the leash in my pocket!), so only Barley's deer friends get to admire the pretty leash :)

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  9. What beautiful beach photos, i just love footprint in the sand photos. Beautiful kitty you have there also. I love wild turkeys they are so cool looking.

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    1. It took forever to get a footprint photo! Any time Barley sees me taking a close up of something she comes and sticks her nose in the shot!

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  10. Nice job on the balance work! And those deer are super close ~ that's got to be mentally draining for her to keep her focus on you!!

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    1. It took about a year before we could even see a deer without her barking, but she's come a long way in her focus!

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  11. We find the same thing. In the winter, every place is deserted so there's not as much training to do. In the summer, we combine the two things. I love your photos and the descriptions of your training!

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    1. We definitely have to be more creative with training in the winter (which is usually not easy since all I can think about is how cold I am and how much longer we need to be out before I can curl up with hot chocolate). It's much more fun to walk in the summer when training just falls into place naturally!

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  12. My dogs like beach walks too. But deer... they cause all kinds of problems! My dogs bark at them on leash, and a few weeks ago, Mia ran after on while off leash and we lost her in the woods for an hour or so. It was scary.

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    1. I read your post on that! It sounded like my worst nightmare--I'm so glad that you got her back. Barley used to have very strong reactions to deer, and we've done a lot of work on staying calm around them, but there's also something about the family of them at this particular park that just seems to put her at ease. It's very bizarre, but also really cool to see.

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