Our first guest post is by instagram’s @robinventures who played a huge role in inspiring me to get bigger and braver with Bael and do this project! Enjoy their story and make sure you follow their adventures on Instagram!
Before Robin, I didn’t even realize that the LA mountains are covered with a web of hiking trails. I only went on one hike in those first five years of living here. Now, we’re on a journey to cover the local mountains with our tracks.
Almost two years ago when my now-fiancé, Addison, and I moved into our own apartment, I started to casually browse rescue listings online. Robin’s mugshot didn’t stand out to me, but he kept coming up in my searches, so one day at the end of September I finally decided to go “take a look”. With 30 minutes to go before closing and impatient stares from the shelter staff, I called our landlord to negotiate and wrote a check for clearance-priced Robin.
We quickly discovered why Robin was on sale – he’d been adopted and returned, likely due to his crippling anxiety. In the beginning, I didn’t think he’d ever be a safe off-leash dog. He tried to jump the fence. He tried to run through two different screen doors. We walked him in a harness AND collar. Because he was self destructive when home alone but content to wait in the car, we started taking him everywhere with us.
Robin’s inquisitive personality inspired our give and take training methods. He is always watching us, and his constant presence on errands put him in tune with our habits. He’s not very food motivated and gets command fatigue quickly, so we avoid giving casual commands and instead train good habits by rewarding polite behavior with praise or playtime. When we do issue a command, he knows we mean it.
Off-leash reliability can be hard or impossible for a sighthound to learn. We walked him frequently, leashed, with our reliable off-leash chihuahua, and saw him start to settle down. The first time we unclipped the leash, I was scared to death that he’d take off running and be gone from our lives forever. But he took off.. and ran jubilant loops of freedom around us. He pounced on sticks, chased the shadows of birds and came running back to us when we called him. Dogs do not hide their happiness, and it was crystal clear that Robin was bursting with heady exhilaration.
Though I wasn’t a hiker, trails were the best choice for exercising him, since they’re low traffic and Robin was too socially awkward for the dog park. We started small, with short trails well in view of the freeways, but I quickly started to crave new, bigger views. As we started to head a little farther out, training became important. There are various dangers in the mountains, all of which are lessened if Robin’s close to me, so my first goal on the trail was to teach him to check in. I use running as the reward- every time he comes back to bump my leg with his nose, I praise effusively and immediately send him running with enthusiasm. It’s so ingrained now that he regularly checks in even when running with other off leash dogs, and rarely goes beyond the start of the next switchback. This keeps him in my sphere of influence, so I can get his attention, keep him on the trail and call him away from hazards. (The biggest risk to his recall is small prey, and as much as I’d like to reveal a novel training method, I actually reduced his prey drive by bellowing at him the second he took off after a creature. Rattlesnakes are a serious risk here and I don’t want him to accidentally tangle with one.)
People are always a little surprised to see a small dog on the summit, but I assure them that Robin could do it twice in a row! Though we’ve both had some health setbacks this year, we’re still hoping to meet our goal of conquering one peak for every thousand feet of elevation from 5k to 11k! Follow along with our adventures on Instagram @robinventures