Dogs and People Learning New Tricks

You may recall when we were planning our trip, I wrote about our dilemma to Take the Dogs or Leave Them with a Friend.  Sean O’Shaughnessey recently inquired about how the dogs are adjusting to RV life.

Now that it has been a month, how are the dogs doing? Have you needed to kennel them? Are they accepting of the occasional stranger that wanders too close to your RV at night? Have they chased after a jack rabbit or meadowlark?

Recall that Darby and Shadow are country dogs.  They lived on 18 acres at Cricket Lane without a fence and were on a leash only a handful of times in their lives.  Their job was to warn us when someone came within a 1/4 mile of the house.  When hiking at Little Wolf, they stayed within eyesight of us but had a pretty wide range of freedom to wander about.

Darby and Shadow on a leash so they don't get eaten by alligators at Brazos Bend State Park

RV life is VERY different.  There are people and other dogs everywhere. Darby and Shadow must walk nicely on a leash while in the campground.  They can’t come in and out of the RV as they please.  When off leash, they have to stick closer to us than in the past because if we get separated, it might be forever.

Some of the new behaviors the dogs have mastered are:
1. Shadow no longer barks at passing dogs or people when sitting outside the RV.
2. Shadow walks very well on the leash and heals.
3. Shadow comes when called when off leash.
4. Both dogs rarely bark at passing dogs or people when sitting inside the RV.
5. Both dogs sit and wait to be given permission to come in or out of the RV.
6. Both dogs stop to get their feet cleaned when coming into the RV.
7. Both dogs now travel well, relaxed and sleeping.

Shadow excited to walk in White Sands National Monument

Some of the behaviors the dogs are still exhibiting:
1. Shadow is learning to not whine when he anticipates some fun event that is about to occur. Shadow is a vocal dog by nature but in the past, we also encouraged him to get excited and “talk” to go out. It took me about 2 weeks before I finally figured out how to modify this behavior by using the click-treat training method.  He’s done very well and making great progress.  I’d say we have maybe 2 more weeks before he’s “cured” of this bad habit.
2. Darby is first and foremost, a beagle mutt.  This means she is sweet, easy going, friendly, tolerant and independent. Being part beagle also means she is most happy when she can put her nose in every desert hole, under every prickly bush and wander off in a scent-induced trance. Therefore, she’s working on:
When hiking off leash, paying attention to where we are and staying with us
– When hiking off leash, not chasing after every lizard, pocket mouse or jackrabbit she sees
– When walking on leash, walking a steady pace and not stopping every few minutes to thoroughly investigate some interesting smell
3. Darby also still occasionally barks at passing dogs when she’s outside the RV. She’s starting to realize that other dogs walking by is OK.

Darby sniffs anything and everything

Sean asked if we’ve put the dogs in a kennel yet.  Happily, no, we haven’t had the need.  When we hike on trails that don’t allow dogs, they stay in the RV. The temperature has been in the low 80’s so we put the awning out, leave the windows open and turn on a temperature controlled ceiling fan.  Our thermometer shows max and min temperatures and verifies that this keeps it cooler inside the RV than outside.

All told, the experience of having the dogs with us, both as part of camp life and as hiking partners, gets a little more enjoyable each day as they adjust to this new and completely different life.   We continue to remind ourselves that we had 9 months to plan and mentally prepare for the transition from living at Cricket Land to living in a 31 foot RV on the road.  They woke up one morning to a completely different world from what they’d known all their lives.  Patience, consistency, practice and lots of treats seems to do the trick!

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