The Squash Stands Alone

Due to some minor tummy upset (nothing serious I promise), Maisy is taking a few days off from mushing. The silver lining to this is that for some time I have been itching to take Squash out alone and see how he does but have felt too guilty to leave her behind, and this development gave me a guilt-free, worry-free opportunity to do so today.

Whenever I want to try something with the mush puppies that’s new or a little more challenging than usual, it’s essential to either get my head in the right place or just skip it that day. Willingly embarking on what you know ahead of time may well be an extremely frustrating and fruitless activity with thinking, feeling creatures who succeed or fail based at least partially on how you interact with and react to their behavior takes a certain special Zen state of mind that I admit I can’t always achieve. Frankly, I can get snippy and irritable when I’m frustrated, and that’s no way to train dogs… especially when for us this is a 100% optional/recreational activity. If it’s not fun, there’s no point. So I screwed my “stays calm and becomes slightly amused by mistakes” and “keeps expectations reasonable” filters side by side into my brain and drove off to the park with my boy alone in the back seat.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from him. It’s amazing how much he has matured mentally over the course of this spring, but he still gets distracted fairly easily and can be silly and unfocused when he starts to get tired. With Maisy at his side these are pretty minor problems, but I really didn’t have a good sense for how he would handle himself without her.

I’m pleased to say that he did a pretty darn good job considering this is the first time I’ve seriously taken himself out by himself. He was a bit uncertain at times, especially when we first started, but he’s used to having a take-charge partner so that’s understandable. This is early in the run:

That monkey business where I’m twirling around laughing happened because he cut around behind the scooter when he started moving again after checking out a tree, and for some reason I thought it would be easier to turn the scooter around than just stop him and fix the line.

He does have a couple of bad habits, a minor one being that he wastes a lot of energy zig-zagging from left to right across the trail instead of just sticking to a straight path. If we were competitive in any way, this would be a more serious problem, but as things are I guess I don’t mind if he’s using extra energy when I’m… exercising him. But as a more serious corollary, he sometimes cuts abruptly right in front of the scooter when zigging or zagging. Maisy has a healthy respect for the scooter and always maintains a pretty big personal bubble around herself that it is not allowed within, but Squash appears to have both the total lack of body awareness of a toddler and the sense of invulnerability of a teenager around the scooter. If you’ve ever hit or nearly hit a deer that seemed to come out of nowhere and zig in front of your car, you have a pretty good idea of what he does. He was kind enough to demonstrate near the end of this video:

Because he was all by himself today, we went on a much shorter run than usual and I did a lot of kicking and walking/trotting beside the scooter instead of making him pull the whole time. He still got pretty tired towards the end and left to his own devices would have become less and less interested in pulling and more and more interested in peeing and sniffing. BUT, to his great credit it is pretty easy to build up his excitement and get him moving again by simply running next to/with the scooter and giving him an enthusiastic HIKEHIKEHIKE or GOGOGO… and although when he is tired the excitement may only last for a short period of time before I find myself stoking it up again, he never just flat out didn’t respond at all. Not once, and I find that very, very promising. Because I can understand being tired and we can build up his physical stamina, but I wouldn’t know how in the world to go about working with him if he didn’t have that mental willingness to work.

So all in all, it was a good day. And here are some pictures… he’s doing a pretty god job, I think. Plus he’s a muscular hunk of dog in great physical condition, if I do say so myself. The second picture is maybe my favorite in terms of showing the muscle definition in his thighs. (In my defense, to those who think I’m maybe juuuuust a little bit too obsessed with my dog’s thighs, happy muscular thighs and butt help make happy tight strong hips, so important for a big athletic dog playing at mushing.)

I probably didn’t have to post ALL of those, but I did anyway. And here’s some from our water/snack/rest break to round out this post:

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