I watched longingly as the gentleman opened his car door at the trailhead and let his chunky yellow dog plop out. Tail wagging, gently bouncing in place with excitement, the pup’s eyes were steadfastly trained on his human. The man paid him little attention as he gathered his day pack and rummaged around for a hat. He didn’t have to pay attention, because the dog was right at his side making slight adjustments to avoid getting stepped on – like a good dance partner.
“Why can’t Neva be good like that?” I said this to Jeremy and to myself EVERY TIME I spotted a good dog, because my dog was not a good dog. She was a crazy dog. It felt like most people had a good dog without even trying, and we had a maniac despite our best efforts. We had Neva.
We had been determined to train Neva, our second dog, from the beginning when we brought her home in late May of 2015. Springtime in the mountains was the perfect opportunity to introduce Neva to all of the world that would be her doggy life with us. She met other dogs, played in the snow, hiked on trails, learned to swim, got tons of exercise, and grew into a leggy, athletic, smallish Labrador Retriever. We trained Neva ourselves following the guidance of “Perfect Puppy in 7 Days” by Dr. Sophia Yin, because yeah, we wanted a perfect puppy.
meeting banjo (and getting a treat from jeremy)
relaxing in the flowers
biting pants seemed like more fun than actual hiking
this one actually retrieves!
testing her first night in the tent (on the deck)
Neva landed far from perfect, but we would have been happy with a half-perfect or even a quarter-perfect dog. Training Neva proved difficult from the start, which made loving Neva harder than I thought it would be. We got there eventually. We put a lot of time and effort into Neva, but she never seemed to be anything other than crazy. At almost two years old, our biggest issues with Neva were 1) she would run off when she wasn’t on leash and 2) she pulled on the leash as if she were running off anyway. That’s a bit of an over simplification. Bred for hunting, Neva’s nose catches every scent on the air or ground and her instinct is to track every single one. Add to that the fact that her excitement level would shoot from zero to 100 mph in an instant and we had ourselves a dog that we didn’t know how to handle. This made time in the backcountry particularly difficult.
A friend suggested trying an e-collar – a stimulation collar which can be adjusted to a range of 100 different levels used for training dogs – used more like a tap on the shoulder to get their attention. She had great success with her own dog, Gretel, on the e-collar. We went ahead and bought one, but waited to try it out until after our friend emailed us her “notes”. I was nervous about using the e-collar incorrectly and potentially making Neva’s training even harder. Turned out the notes were instructions written specifically for Gretel by a professional dog trainer. There was a thorough analysis of Gretel’s behaviors, reactions in certain situations, and needs from her person. I read through the instructions several times, coming to the realization that what I needed was not the e-collar, but the dog trainer, Backcountry Buddies.
I checked out the website and Facebook page, and read reviews before contacting Backcountry Buddies. I exchanged emails with Claire describing Neva’s behaviors and our goals for her training. [Note: Claire is not the only trainer at Backcountry Buddies, but she was our main point of contact.] In Late January, Claire came up to our house for an hour to meet Neva, administered a few behavior tests (to check for aggression – Neva isn’t aggressive, thank goodness), and gave us a consultation. She assessed Neva’s personality and told us that she thought Neva could benefit from their program. Claire described how the program works: two weeks of intensive training for Neva at Backcountry Buddies without visitation, then if after two weeks Neva requires more work, they keep her for another week of training at no additional cost. There were also warnings, like if the dog became unmanageable due to separation anxiety, we would be called to come get her and receive a refund. Before leaving, Claire showed us a few basic training exercises to practice with Neva to prepare her for camp if we decided to send her.
We had a good feeling about Claire based on her ability to read Neva, and how confidently she worked with the pup in such a short time. Neva was already very much in love with Claire. After we reserved a spot for Neva, Claire sent “homework” instructions for Neva and us in the month preceding camp and we submitted our down payment for the Board and Train 14-day Obedience 2/Adventure Prep.
On March 1, 2017, we drove Neva down to Westminster and got her acquainted with her new surroundings. She paced about in anxious frenzied excitement. Claire went over a bullet list on her whiteboard of our goals for Neva’s training, asking if there was anything else to add, then ran through her training plan based on the progress Neva may or may not make. We must have given Claire the impression that Neva was a completely feral remedial maniac because she didn’t seem to have high expectations. Our attitude towards our dogs has always been one of pessimistic realism as opposed to delusional wishful thinking (people who think their dogs are angels when, in fact, they’re assholes). Even though it was a relief to drop Neva off and let someone else deal with Crazy, by the end of the day I was already missing her.
dropping neva off with claire at backcountry buddies
**Jump for more butter**