Early Saturday mornings can be magical. I’m an early riser, up and out with Miller before the streets are streaming with cars or pedestrians. This morning the prediction was for rain, so I got us going immediately to walk while it was merely gray. It wasn’t gray and broody but light behind the clouds; very nice.
The neighbourhood was loud with little birds and crows, all sounding busy. It was Miller, me, and the occasional cyclist or runner. Miller was very good about both cyclists and runners; we’ve worked with him a lot* and he’s come along well in his response to them. These days it’s mostly a non-reaction (he may not even look at them), whereas when we first adopted him he would lunge and bark at both. I have counter-conditioning to thank for his response these days. Changing his reaction by giving him great food when something alarming appears has worked well. See a runner? Here’s some food. See a cyclist? Here’s some food. His response has changed so much that I don’t need to reinforce with food every time anymore.
To be fair, I don’t put him in pressure situations. I make sure he has sufficient space from runners, moving off the sidewalk if I see one approaching. If I see a cyclist approaching as we reach an intersection, I cue him to stop away from the corner and wait for them to roll by. This morning a woman was walking toward us, and from a block away, I could see she must be warming up for a run. She was rolling her shoulders and started swinging her arms in circles as she got closer. Knowing from experience that this kind of movement could trigger Miller, I moved us into a wider arc of space than he might ordinarily need. He sniffed the grass and was calm when she passed us by.
Along a stretch of sidewalk with young thin trees, I heard music. Not just any music, but bagpipe music. Bagpipe music? I thought. I looked for an open window or car idling, but couldn’t see a source. At the far end of the block, I saw someone walking with a phone that they were looking at intently, and as we got a little closer, I realized that was the source of the music. It must have been a video, because the person’s attention to the screen was unbroken. The wail of the pipes reached down the block and made me smile, because I sure wouldn’t have expected bagpipes on a Vancouver spring morning.
Miller and I wandered on, turning towards a yard with fresh manure, and I got him away from that. The boy loves manure, so spring can be a snakes and ladders game between fertilized lawns that I don’t want him sniffing and manured lawns and gardens that I don’t want him eating. I need to be alert.
As we turned down towards an enclosed area where I hoped to let Miller have a run off leash, I saw someone standing not far from it, looking at his phone. There was no kid on a swing or toddling about, so I knew there must be a dog, and I was right: a dog staring at Miller. Luckily it was a good hundred meters away, and Miller didn’t get riled up, but looked at me instead when I said, “Let’s go”. Good boy: I reinforced that with a treat and home we went.
Small but significant successes with bagpipes as soundtrack. It was a sweet start to Saturday.
*Note: I’m not a certified dog trainer, just passionate about the best outcomes for dogs. If your dog needs support beyond your own skill level, please choose a certified trainer.
Image: Miller’s plea for a walk.