The summer is over, and so is the 2019 Parks Training Challenge. If you're not familiar with the Parks Training Challenge, it's a marathon summer event with a simple premise: Take your dog to as many different city, county, state, etc parks as possible and practice training with them. It doesn't matter what you're working on, as long as you're working on something.
The Parks Challenge is addictive; I'm constantly surprised at how drawn in people get. Or maybe I shouldn't be surprised. It's fun and competitive, sure, but also: it really, really works. Dogs get trained. They get good. Handlers get good. The team gets good. A dog and handler at the end of the summer, having participated in the challenge, are going to be lightyears ahead of where they were at the start of the summer. Here's some of what I learned -- let me know what you learned!
Go in with a plan, but be ready to change it if needed. If your plan is to do longline recalls, but when you show up the park is covered in squirrels, then you might want to put the recalls on hold and work on the squirrel distraction instead. First things first; if your squirrel distraction problem is too great, your recalls will never work. So squirrel distraction needs to come first.
You'll get more fluent as you go. And more confident. Maybe you're nervous about bringing your young dog out to a new place. You bring lots of treats, you park in the very corner of the parking lot away from all the action, you hold your breath and hope for just one "sit" and a couple of steps of loose-leash walking. Your dog does fine. The next time, you're a little more confident; you push a little harder. This works also, and a trend is born. Your confidence is going up steadily.
Or maybe you're already feeling plenty confident. In fact, maybe you're a little too confident. If you're overconfident, then the challenge can help you remain realistic. Maybe you head out to your first training session, envisioning your dog doing perfect heeling just outside the dog park fence, as skateboarders whiz by and frisbees soar overhead. That scenario probably does not play out. So you revamp your training plan and start smaller. Your dog does great with your scaled-down version of the training plan, and next time you can add more difficulty.
You will build the bond. All those hours spent, and all that exploration together. Sometimes you'll get friends and family members to tag along, but often it's just the two of you. Isn't this kind of what you envisioned when you got a dog? Setting off for adventures with your dog, just the two of you? For me there were moments when I felt this was the epitome of dog ownership, just going out and doing stuff together.
You will get really good at developing training plans. Even if at the start of the summer you're sure that it's going to take literally four months to learn loose-leash walking, and that's all you're planning on working on for the challenge, you'll probably find that at some point the dog has learned loose-leash walking, and now you're getting bored and ready to try something new. So, figure it out and try something new! Maybe stays. Maybe jogging. Maybe tricks.
Our local parks in this section of Oregon are awesome. I was blown away by the beauty, richness and diversity of our parks. Forest Park is probably the biggest city park in the country, and you could spend an entire summer just exploring it. But we've also got lots of other parks that also have good hiking. There's well-kept, clean and fenced dog parks. There's cool little urban parks with sculptures and public art. There's fountains. During the summer there's free movies and concerts several times per week. There's great play structures for the kids, including some that are adaptable for special-needs kids. There's space for every kind of sport you'd like to do -- disc golf, tennis, swimming pools. The Portland Parks system is fantastic and every time I went to a new one I was reminded of just how great it is.
It's fall now, and the happy memories of the summer of 2019 will be more and more distant each day, but the lessons learned will stay. And for those of you who didn't participate in the challenge this year, it will repeat in 2020! In fact, there are lots of new things planned for next year, including new awards categories and other fun activities. See you next summer!