When I posted yesterday about my plan for “Competitive Sidewalk Walking,” it seems like y’all thought I was joking. I prefer to think of it as thinking positively about our problems. A little bit of a joke, but with a lot of seriousness behind it.

You see, Silas is terrified of the sidewalk. His fear of cars is the reason that he takes his “as needed” psychiatric medication. I’ve had to abort walks because he sees a car moving through the trees, or because he knows that we’re walking toward a place where there might be a car. He was a year old, I think, before I could get him to walk through a parking lot to get to the trail, and even now (at almost two and a half) we are just starting to work on not bolting through like a maniac.

Our Competitive Sidewalking training plan is in two phases that will run simultaneously. First, I need to keep doing the things I’m doing to counter-condition the evil cars. (Familiarization with the venue, you know.) This will get easier now that the weather is finally breaking–we’ve only got one day this week that will be 90. Now we can go back to three outings a week, with probably one of them in a “challenging” place. These outings will involve practicing walking skills that have been proofed at home. We’re at that phase now with emergency turns and heeling–we practice heeling work a few steps at a time in the two parks where Silas is the most comfortable.

Secondly, we also need something to occupy our training time, which is where the sport part of this “dog sport” comes in. There are two things feeding into this list. First, Silas really loved learning to heel (ironic, given the state of his leash manners at large), and he needs training time every day. This kind of training with movement is really his forte, so why not excel at it? Also, as confirmed by his behaviorist, anxious dogs really benefit from a consistent set of rules and structure. Part of his success is going to depend on always knowing what is expected. That’s why the “skills” list for our “sport” sounds very strict for just toodling around the neighborhood.

Remember that all training here at My Imperfect Dog is FUN. If it isn’t FUN we don’t do it, and I have very realistic expectations for what Silas is actually capable of in any given environment. I’m not saying that every dog everywhere needs to know all this stuff, or even that I have any intention of using all of it on every walk. Even competitive obedience dogs get to relax. It may very well be years before we actually put paw to concrete, though, and, like a puppy too young for agility jumps, we have a lot of time to build base skills.

Skills list:
Top priority:
A great working relationship

The rest, in no particular order:
Heeling, with automatic sit when I stop walking
Directional cues for left, right, and forward
Emergency U-turns to get away from bad situations
Walking calmly past other dogs and pedestrians unless cued to greet
Polite greetings when permitted
Attention to me in distracting environments
Cues for moving ahead or behind
Maintaining loose leash while walking ahead
Ability to drop back into heel position from walking ahead
Solid recall in all situations, in case of equipment failure
Cues to go sniff/wander around and to resume walking

Some of these are big behaviors that will need to be broken down more. I still need to think through all of that, plus coming up with a logical training order and ways to actually train some of these. What do you think? Anything I should add?


5 thoughts on “Skills

  1. I really think those are great goals. I figured you weren’t kidding and I wasn’t kidding when I said that it might catch on with others. 🙂 I like that you say no timetable. I think putting a timetable on training is a recipe for disaster.


    1. How much nicer would it be to live in the city if every walk was “Showing off my dog’s mad skills”? instead of “doing this part of dog owning that I really hate, so I’m gonna use a flexi line and talk on the phone.”

      My timetable is “this lifetime.” That’s it. I can predict with reasonable accuracy how long *some* of the individual skills will take, but I have no idea when I’ll ever get Silas to actually go out on the sidewalk. It may never happen, and that’s okay, too. Then we’ll change sports to “Competitive Park Walking.” 🙂


  2. Those are great goals. We’ve been working on a lot of the same things lately. Last night a little black dog ran out of his house and circled my 3 dogs raging and barking. The owner said was acting that way because he’s sad because his best dog friend died last week and he misses him. Okay… But luckily our practice paid off and my dogs were only slightly perplexed as opposed to totally unraveled.


  3. I’m very fortunate that Blueberry is not a very reactive dog…although to empathize I will tell you that over the weekend I took her to the park in the morning. Unfortunately, with the cooler weather, that means more people at the park which isn’t normally a problem. Unless one of them happens to be rolling around on skates while holding onto what looks like a parachute of some sort. That parachute was floating all over the place, dipping down and making noise and Blueberry came a little unglued and was barking and trying to run away. Thankfully, I was able to get her attention so she didn’t flip out too badly, but we did end up leaving the park after only 20 minutes since even though we weren’t near it – she could still see it across the park and wasn’t a happy dog.

    You have great goals for Silas – and no pressure of a time table makes it more fun!


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