After 10 years, I finally, finally found an activity that I can do with my dog, Mija, the quintessential firecracker dog, where the two of us don't want to strangle each other at some point.
I love my girl, but boy, she can be really independent and stubborn. I often feel like the mom of a teenager around her, even though she's 10 years old now. If dogs could roll their eyes, she'd probably do it constantly.
Because of her high energy and intelligence, I've tried lots of activities with her and every time, she has other ideas. Trying to get her to play the game on anything but her terms has been a great lesson in motivation for me.
I'm happy that I've learned so much with her, but wow, it was great to hop in a kayak last Sunday, have her hop in with me, and not have to figure out how to get her to play the game. The two girls had a perfect day together.
Here is a sampling of some of the activities we've tried together.
At our very first agility class, she was a super-star. She was afraid of nothing and wanted to try everything. But at our second class, she grew bored when it wasn't her turn. Each week, she grew more and more frustrated. The instructor was great at teaching agility, but didn't have experience with the other stuff and at the time, neither did I. By the last week, she had completely given up and refused to participate at all. I was ready to wring her neck.
Later, we went to an agility class at the Canine Center for Training and Behavior, where the instructors are more interested in helping people and their dogs bond. At the first class, the past frustrations came out right away. The trainer, Shari, helped me figure out how to motivate Mija. The answer was as simple as not using treats, which she thought were just ok, but giving her a tennis ball when she did each obstacle. When it wasn't her turn, she happily chewed away on her ball. Almost immediately, she decided she loved agility and we finished the class with a record-breaking run.
I took Mija to a sheep herding class. The instructor kept her on a long lead and also had a staff to ensure that the dog can't bite the sheep. Every time Mija got too close to the sheep, the instructor put the staff in between her and the sheep. Mija decided that was no fun at all and then refused to play.
We took the dogs to Colorado this spring to skijor. Shaggy and Calvin did well, but Mija wanted, yet again, to play on her terms. She had no interest at all in pulling me. I'm sure I could continue working with her and we'd figure it out, but since we don't live where it snows, that's probably not going to happen.
AND AT LAST - KAYAKING
She and I hopped in that kayak and never looked back. She had a ball playing King of the World at the top of the kayak with the wind blowing in her face. When she got hot, she jumped into the water and swam around and even pulled me a little. When she was tired from swimming, she swam right up to me, put her two front paws on the kayak, and I pulled her right back in using the handle on her life vest.
Never did I have to work with her on encouraging the appropriate behavior while discouraging the inappropriate behavior. Everything she wanted to do was the right thing to do. For the first time, we simply enjoyed being together on our adventure and it was marvelous. I saw some of the happiest looks on her face that I've ever seen.
All of that balancing and swimming (especially if you can teach your dog to pull you...in the direction you actually want to go) makes for a very tired pup! And it's great knowing that as she ages, we'll have something we can do together that will be easier on her body, especially during the hot Texas summers.
KAYAKING WITH YOUR DOG
If you have kayaking experience and have a dog who would like that, it's probably something you can figure out on your own. Since I didn't have experience, I took a kayaking class with the Canine Center for Training and Behavior, who offers these classes year-round. Besides the life vest, you'll want a long leash, so your dog can swim a good distance around you, and a rubber-bottomed mat, like a bath mat or yoga mat that your dog can stand on in the kayak.
The most difficult part of the whole activity is getting your dog back into the kayak. That's where the handle on the life vest was invaluable to me and I couldn't believe how easy it was to pull her back in. If your dog is a swimming super-star and you don't have the funds for a life vest, using a harness could work too.
This weekend, my husband and I took Mija on a 3-person kayak and it was nice to have one person focused on steering the kayak while the other held her leash when she jumped in to swim. Naturally, she did want to swim into the areas that seemed most likely to have snakes, and it was a little awkward trying to hold onto her leash and steer the kayak on my own.
Do you know of a dog trainer who teaches people and their dogs to kayak together? Please let us know so that we can add them to our local resources directory.
KAYAKING IN AUSTIN
I'm not the expert yet, so I'd love to hear from others. We rented from the Texas Rowing Center, which I highly recommend. It's nice to be able to park close by (there's always parking in front of Austin High) and not have to carry anything but my dog's leash and accoutrements. They have the oars, life-jackets (not the dog life-jacket, though, you'll need to supply that), and even dog mats for you to use. The kayaks (or SUPs) are only steps away and are right on the water, with staff from the Center who help you get your kayak in and out. Buying a pass from the rowing center is the best way to go and you won't have to wait in line for subsequent visits.