Last year, I posted a few times about how badly I wanted to be able to let Nala explore the world off-leash whenever it would be safe and legal for her to do so on a hike. You may remember, though, that I had some reservations about doing so because Nala is environmentally sensitive. We’ve worked very hard on it, and she’s much better than she was. Still, we’re a work in progress, as always.
Thanks in part to our weekly adventures, Nala is less and less phased when we go to new places. A year ago, I found to my surprise that Nala could barely take food for twenty minutes when she arrived in a new place, and she would never fully relax.
A couple of weekends ago, we went to an all new park for us–a national park over an hour’s drive away.
For our first ten minutes there, I let Nala do whatever she needed to and fed her whenever a car drove slowly through the parking lot. In short order, she was ready to walk over to the line for the bathroom and befriend everyone waiting there.
By the time we had parked next to the trailhead and gotten out, Nala was wound way, way up. Still, about five minutes later, she was feeling better.
Then, as we played our “paws up” game, she noticed the river, just as I had hoped she would.
She was different here than she is in our more familiar spots–a little bit more urgent, a little bit more sniffy. But when I compare that hike to our first return to hiking nearly a year ago, I have to acknowledge that even our difficult days, our hard places, are worlds better than they were.
In a new place, Nala is still worried and disconnected enough–particularly when we first arrive–that I wouldn’t consider dropping the line. Now, though, she eventually relaxes enough to remember that she is playful. We raced around together through one of the wide, brushy fields, playing our opposition reflex and jumping and recall games together under the immense Texan sky.
In more familiar places, she is just as bright and sparkly and playful as she is at home.
In case you’re curious about our baby off leash work, here’s a recent little video. This park is so close to us that we go nearly once a week. When it’s not too busy, we stop in this spot to play. Mostly I’m looking for offered attention and engagement without begging or bribing, here, but I also let her wander quite a ways away, unhindered by a human on the end of her line, before calling her to test her recall.
I love watching her here; I love seeing my whole dog out in the world. We still have a long way to go before this version of my dog can accompany me everywhere, but I’m so happy with how far we’ve come.
What are your dog training milestones? What’s your favorite sign of how you and your dog have grown together?