Training In An Urban Environment

| August 30, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Sunny work

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I have had many adventures training in an urban environment. Years ago, when I did tracking, I had an encounter with former President Jimmy Carter and his Secret Service men (young hunks—editorial comment!!!). In addition, I got up close and personal with the Secret Service men protecting then President Reagan who thought Sprite and I were members of the bomb sniffing detail. I have had the police called because “this strange woman is out there with this dog wandering all over and it is very early in the morning”—-the police were delightful (once they holstered their guns) and very interested in what I was doing.

The Police K-9 unit stopped to check out what was going on when my husband was throwing marks for me. I had a Biology Class from UCSB become extremely distraught when I sent a young dog for a blind (I hadn’t seen them taking samples along the shore) and they thought the dog was going for the local park ducks—-I always carry a spare bumper to show what my dogs are retrieving.

I was pursued by a guy riding a mountain bike who had more than friendship in mind. When I couldn’t evade him, I started throwing bumpers at him and sent the dogs (two Goldens who thought it was a great game) which put him off his stride long enough for me to get over a wall into someone’s yard and call the police. (I was younger then and somewhat more athletic!) The following week, this rapacious guy was caught in the same area attempting to strangle a woman—-two young men coming up from the beach below saw it and tackled him and held him there until the police arrived. I identified him as the one that came after me as well. As you can see, training where I do lends itself to an interesting life.

I can hear you asking what the above has to do with training dogs. Actually, nothing, but I thought it would jazz up the article and add a little human interest.

A beginning caveat when training in urban areas—be a good, responsible neighbor. Public relations mean everything, so if someone acts like the rear of a donkey about your training in an urban site, don’t respond in kind. I have found that being pleasant, possibly explaining what I am doing, and not getting into a yelling match has lead to people telling me about some training areas which I never would have found otherwise.

It is much easier to train in an urban environment with one dog as you can get in and out much more quickly; you can walk into areas with one dog more readily than you can with two or three; you don’t stick out as much for persons to notice what you are doing.

I live near an ocean, and with care, can at times train on the beach. There are leash laws, but there are beaches where you can go during the winter which are more remote. The best days are those which are somewhat miserable—foggy, damp, raining, or days when most persons do not wish to be on the beach. You need to check the tide tables and go for minus tides (very low tides) as then you will find lots of tide pools which can be used for drills, introducing a pup to water, and running pothole blinds. Even if you don’t live near an ocean, perhaps you can find areas near a river with backup ponds, etc.

Another source for water training has been after a heavy rain and when water puddles in depressions—I know this must sound pathetic to those of you who have considerable access to excellent training water, but one does what one has to do. In many cases, this training has paid off dividends down the road. I have found puddles that are probably eight to twelve feet long and three feet wide and done drills down the center of them—backing up as the dog understands what I want. Also, I have found some largish round puddles and do drills/blinds slicing across them at various angles. I will start by setting up either a pile or a very obvious sight blind then build on this, backing up as far as I can once my dog understands what I am asking.

The dogs have fun doing these blinds—reminds me of my son when he was little and would take great delight in running through any and every puddle he could find. In addition, the dogs become quite good about not avoiding just such a puddle during a test or trial.

The other morning I went to a local park to train. As usual, I go as early as I can to minimize other people/dogs being around. Since there are homes nearby, I kept whistles soft and to a minimum. I have mixed feelings about this park as it used to be part of a (in my terms) rough area which was undeveloped and made a very good training location during the months of November through April/May—depending on when the foxtails were ripe. It is now a mall with a park behind it. Since its development, I try to utilize this park in various other ways. One of the areas is great for drills, and I run a variety of them there from different angles. I can pull up in the parking lot so it lends itself to efficiency. The field is generally open space although it has soccer nets at both ends and baseball diamonds in various parts. It works well for casting drills and lining drills. Also, for young dogs, you can easily do some diversion work there.

I have had the dogs jump over benches, angle between trees or picnic tables, go through openings in fences, and do angle drills across the sidewalks and pathways. I try to be as creative as possible in devising different ways to take advantage of the obstacles put in by the local Park Department.

Marking can be done, if done wisely. You can’t throw long marks in many parks, but you can use your imagination to get as much out of an area as possible. If you have a training buddy, you can play post office with your dogs—-one bumper that first your partner throws as his/her dog sits quietly at heel while your dog retrieves it. Then you throw the bumper for her/his dog as your dog sits beside you. You then each move to a new position. The dogs love it, and you get in a lot of work in a short period of time. I try to stay out of this park on weekends and when all the dog walkers and joggers normally show up.

Very early mornings, evenings, and especially Sunday mornings are good times to use some of the industrial areas. Be sure and pick up after your dogs in all these places. Generally, you will not have any large areas to work in many of the industrial parks, but you can sometimes take advantage of ditches, slopes, and rolling terrain.

Different parts of the country have varying advantages and disadvantages. My daughter lives outside of Boston, and there are numerous conservation areas there that can be used for training. As long as your dog is under control in these areas, it does not have to be on a leash. I can train all year round, although this is more constrained during foxtail season. My daughter is more limited due to weather conditions. I am more limited due to the litigious nature that abounds in California which has resulted in more and more properties being off limit. She has an advantage in the more welcoming attitude there is about dogs as well as the foresight of planners to set aside many open areas for use by the public.

I have spend many hours with a local map in one hand while driving around to check out anything that looks at all feasible for training. Universities often have good fields. Schools can, too—again, be sure and pick up after your dogs. In one area (in Oklahoma) where I ran a trial, the local mental hospital had marvelous fields and even good water. Just be sure the patients will not present a risk to you or you to them. I want to stress that I always use bumpers and no birds when in any public areas. A low profile has less chance of offending anyone.

None of the above is perfect, but if you plan wisely, you can always gain something from training in an urban setting. My dogs get used to all sorts of distractions, cars going by in the background, persons and/or dogs walking through, discarded plastic containers on the ground—-they really have to focus on either the mark or my handling and learn to ignore white containers or other attractions.

There are many things you can do in your own backyard. Set up a holding blind and work with your dog going in and out, sitting quietly or lying down in it. You can put out a mat and work with your dog with regard to his sitting on it and realizing he must remain on it until sent. You can proof on this as you would for an obedience exercise. I use agility jumps and/or obedience jumps as obstacles. I have sent my dogs through weave poles at an angle. If you have the time and energy, you can cut brush and make your own obstacles.

One time I had a dog that would not move if he couldn’t see me on a blind. On occasion, usually because my timing was off, I would stop him behind a bush or in a dip, and he would just sit there. I set out a bumper pile in the backyard and worked with him going to it from remote sits. I then put up a solid obedience jump as high as I could make it, and had him sit behind it so he couldn’t see me. I then told him “back”. He quickly learned that even if he didn’t see me, if he heard me command “back”, he needed to move—although he didn’t always move where I wanted him to in a trial situation, at least he got out where I could see him.

My husband has taught his agility dogs to turn on the verbal “right” or “left” when he is behind them. I have thought this might be worthwhile to use, and one time I ran one of his dogs in a hunt test, the dog got out of sight on a blind, I blew the whistle, said “left” (with a cast) and that is where he appeared— exactly where I wanted him to be. I have not done this training with my dogs, but I have given it great thought.

You can always work on your obedience, sits, downs, pivots, heeling, and working together as a team in your backyard.

All of us would prefer to have great grounds complete with fellow trainers, good water, the use of birds and flyers, etc. Whenever you get the chance to use such as this, take advantage of it at every opportunity.

When you rarely have them, try to make the most of what you do have. There have been many times I have been discouraged when I realize I am competing against persons/dogs that have tremendous advantages that I don’t have. If I had allowed myself to become too depressed (occasionally I do some whining to myself), I would have missed out on the many terrific experiences and joyful moments I have had with my dogs. Despite often working under less than optimum conditions, I have had quite a few dogs that were able to attain a variety of field titles while being primarily trained in an urban environment.

As Hugh Downs said, “A happy person is not a person with a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” Make sure both you and your dog(s) are happy!





Category : Blog, Hunt Training

About the Author ()

Glenda Brown owns both Goldens and Labradors. She is on the Board of the LRC and is the field liaison to the Golden Retriever News. She is a Founding Member of the CRTA, has judged a Master National Hunt Test and the National Amateur. She has competed in conformation, obedience, tracking and hunt tests but her primary venue is field trials. Her husband competed in agility---with some of the field dogs. She has and has had Field Champions with both her Goldens and her Labs.

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