by Allison Otto | on December 12th, 2011 | in Features
Let me start by saying that there’s no such thing as the “ultimate adventure dog.” In fact, I believe that all dog breeds are worthy of the “adventure dog” moniker.
Even—dare I say it—Chihuahuas. Yes, Chihuahuas.
I wouldn’t have believed this possible, though, until I met Cosette. And even then, when I first laid eyes on her at a dog adoption fair in Los Angeles I nearly kept right on walking. I was searching for a dog that would bound up 14ers with me, run recklessly across the mountainsides with me, and share a campfire with me while we stared together at stars and ate S’mores. The kind of dog that would inspire me to take grand adventures on the open road and would love nothing more than to ride shotgun with me into the distance.
And Cosette–well I wasn’t even sure that she could walk around the block with me. She looked like a sickly coyote pup. She had runny eyes, an aggressive case of mange, and she smelled like a ripe wool sock that had spent one too many days in a hiking boot.
But the rescuer who brought Cosette to the fair worked me over with the determined guile of a used car salesman. Cosette, the rescuer claimed, was simply a fixer-upper. She would only get better and more beautiful with time. Sure, when the rescuer initially found Cosette she could barely walk, was covered in scabs, and was oozing pus, but now she had an entire half a coat of fur and plenty of interest in adventures.
And if I would just be willing to fill out a bit of paperwork—and be sure to include my phone number–I could be added to the ostensibly long list of people interested in this dog.
The next morning–before I’d even made it out of bed–I received a call from the rescuer: After careful consideration and a thorough review of my paperwork, I had been selected as THE perfect match for Cosette. Of course I later found out the selection process came down to me and well, me, since I was the only person who had expressed any interest at all in Cosette.
And I’m a bit ashamed to admit this now, but I almost backed out. That’s because in addition to her health issues, Cosette spent most of our first two weeks together trembling in a corner behind the sofa and maintaining a near-constant distance of two feet. As for our initial “adventures,” they consisted of walking around the perimeter of our apartment building.
But even the most legendary adventurers begin with small journeys before tackling Everest.
And so did we. Eventually we explored the neighborhood together. And then we climbed to Griffith Park observatory together.
And pretty soon I discovered that Chihuahuas can make fantastic running partners–especially Cosette. With her newfound adventure confidence she ran roughshod for miles over the labyrinth of dirt trails that crisscross Griffith Park.
And they love road trips! When I moved back home to Colorado, Cosette jumped eagerly into the car to be my co-pilot across the Southwest. When I spent six weeks filming in remote regions of the Four Corners, Cosette faithfully followed me up the mountains and through the deserts.
And by the time I drove to New England to film the autumn foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Kancamagus Byway, and the National Historic Road, Cosette was an old pro at being my pocket-sized adventure buddy.
But Cosette isn’t a rarity in the Chihuahua world. Even though Chihuahuas are the smallest breed of dog, they are legendary for their intelligence, loyalty, energy, and bravery.
The Mayans and Aztecs even considered the ancestors of the modern Chihuahua sacred and believed the breed possessed the ability to guide the dead safely to the afterlife. And while there aren’t any Labradors in the Sistine Chapel, the same can’t be said for Chihuahuas: a dog that resembles a Chihuahua graces Botticelli’s fresco depicting the Trials of Moses.
A few months ago, I adopted a second Chihuahua, Murci, from the Ranchos de Chihuahua sanctuary in Chimayo, New Mexico. At 8 pounds she’s even smaller than Cosette. We went on our first hike as a trio this summer and Murci’s now officially an adventure dog-in-training. And while we have no plans to hunt ducks or jump into a pickup truck and go backcountry skiing, we’ve got plenty of other adventures ahead.
And Murci is a natural at it. Because, after all, she’s a Chihuahua.
by Alicia Carr | on August 31st, 2010 | in Features, Training
This week, Mike Stewart takes us on a short hike with trail dogs Indian, Deke, Opus, and Drake. Follow along.
by Grayson Schaffer | on August 25th, 2009 | in Web Sites
Mike and the gang at Wildrose have launched a new program to take what they’ve learned training hunting dogs with positive reinforcement and applying it to adventure dogs for all of the sports we love. In the coming months, we’ll be showing you how to heel your dog with a bike, steady him in a canoe, and stay calmly on the bank while you fish. We hope you’ll follow along and continue to send us your training questions and discoveries. The new Adventure Dog Certification page is here.
by Mike Stewart | on April 28th, 2009 | in The Wildrose Way
As we launch our blog further introduction is in order. This is a getting-to-know-you session on the Wildrose training methodology. Read up, post your questions as comments, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
If you’re new to OutsideK9.com, you’re probably wondering what The Wildrose Way is, and how it’s different from all of the other training methodologies out there. First, you’ve got to understand what my trainers and I aim for in finished dogs, here at our kennels outside of Oxford, Mississippi. When potential clients inquire, the first thing I ask is, What do you want from your dog? Over the years, the answers to that question have gradually focused into two main categories—both companions for a sporting lifestyle.
- The first, we’ve taken to calling the Gentleman’s Gundog. Once finished, these dogs are capable of hunting and retrieving multiple types of game plus serving as a fantastic companion for the family.
- The second, we call The Adventure Dog. These are dogs that will retrieve game but have additional training specific to other activities like boating, biking, skiing, camping, fishing, etc. These are loyal and obedient dogs that complement a family’s sporting lifestyle.
The Wildrose Way, then, is how we get to these two outcomes, which, as it turns out, share a lot in common: Heeling beside a bike is very similar to heeling beside a mounted rider on a quail hunt. Sporting lifestyles place dogs in some of the most demanding and distracting situations for even the best-trained canines. These include working off lead, sometimes at great distances from the handler, and often in the face of enormous enticements like wildlife, hikers, other dogs, and gregarious humans. We’ve tailored our methods specifically to these situations.
There’s a lot of animal psychology out there that relates to dog training, but theories alone don’t add up to an incremental training method that produces finished dogs. The Wildrose Way applies a blend of operant conditioning and pack leadership (the theories) to a series of training drills (the mechanics) and an overarching philosophy for interacting with our dogs to get us to those end points. Our ultimate goal is to help people form strong bonds and greater understanding of the dog for the smart, social animal it is and not the baby in a dog suit it’s so tempting to imagine.
The Wildrose Way avoids the use of force—heavy-handed techniques like toe and ear pinches, heeling sticks, e-collars, and check cords—in favor of positive reinforcement that rewards dogs for correct responses. Positive reinforcement isn’t just less mean from a human point of view, it brings out the natural ability of the dog by encouraging him to offer behaviors without the threat of pain. There’s a time and a place for force, namely as a last resort to stop unsafe behaviors like bolting after wildlife or other dogs, but we believe behaviors are best shaped by consistent reinforcement to the point of habit formation. We structure our relationships with dogs as a pack hierarchy and train owners to do the same.
Our unique drills, exercises, techniques and conditioning are primarily reward-based, all designed to entrench the desirable behaviors and skill sets necessary for control, performance, and civil conduct. We build a strong foundation of obedience—critical for every dog, whether a hunter, service animal, or house pet—and then slowly layer on specialized skills for a wide variety of situations. Follow along, ask any question, and check in often.
Our training e-newsletter and archives are available at uklabs.com.