I have so many stories and pictures to share from BlogPaws, which was fun, educational, exhausting and amazing all at once. My trip was generously sponsored by Open Farm, and Boca and I even got to meet our wonderful contact, Amy, in Phoenix. For this week's Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, I wanted to illuminate how positive reinforcement helped make Boca's first big event in a strange, chaotic place a success.
Immediately upon arrival at the conference, we hit the ground running to an invite-only event in a small banquet room crowded with bloggers and their pets. Boca was a great sport from the get-go - our main trouble was that she was a bit too relaxed. She kept flopping down and creating a road hazard in the tight space. I saved her from having her paw or tail stepped on several times. As I listened to the presentation and chatted with friends old and new, Boca set her unwavering gaze on me as I doled out positive reinforcers (i.e. snacks) from our awesome new treat bag.
Although I wanted to keep Boca on her normal routine as much as possible, I knew we'd be spending a lot of time in novel and stressful situations, between the one- to three- hour long sessions, the hubbub of the vendor hall, and the chaotic camaraderie of the happy hours and meals. I didn't want to upset her stomach with a huge influx of rich treats, so I made a "trail mix" of her regular ration of Open Farm kibble combined with two kinds of treats of varying textures.
I got so many compliments on Boca's good behavior, but I honestly don't feel like I can take a lot of credit for her lovely demeanor. She is happy to lounge or slouch almost anywhere, and whether she was taking a nap or making me laugh with her intense laser stare, she was both exactly how I expected her to be and so much more. I gave her quite a bit of down-time in her crate in the room - she happily went in and curled up, sound asleep upon our return. I am so thankful that Boca loves her den - it makes traveling a breeze!
By the second day she seemed like an old pro, choosing her own seat and settling down with a Kong. On Saturday I could tell that pets and people alike were getting a little worn down; a few dogs were snappy and some looked like they would rather be anywhere else. Overall, I was really impressed with the animal attendees and the many ways the conference organizers and the Sheraton Grand accommodated all of our needs. Boca enjoyed the water fountains and delicious samples that were to be found in the exhibitor hall. She even did a few tricks to everyone's delight, and made her way into quite a few brands' social media feeds from the event.
Boca isn't a particularly friendly dog, at least not in an excitable way. I describe her as dog-neutral but she was happy to pose with a few friends. I was thrilled to meet talented trick dog, Just Jesse. Many people asked about Ruby and I could not even imagine her in such a demanding environment. I have the most reactive and the most non-reactive two dogs! Boca barked twice in the entire four days we were at the hotel - once at a dog outside our patio window and again at a golf cart.
We did have a couple of minor fear issues: the first was the mister in the dog potty area. The mist was a welcome relief in the 110+ degree heat, but it was run by a loud motor right by the entrance. Boca was spooked by it which limited our use of the main potty area. Luckily, we had a first-floor room with our own patio door to the stunningly landscaped desert grounds! I wasn't expecting that and it solved the complicated logistics I had been picturing, winding through endless hotel hallways first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
On the last evening at the awards dinner, Boca was so relaxed that she was sprawled out Madame Frogpants style with her tail wagging while we applauded the Nose to Nose winners, but unfortunately something frightened her and we had to make an early exit. I think one of the speakers crackled, because she started trembling like she does during thunder or fireworks. She made a quick recovery back in the room and was no worse for wear.
I am so proud of my little street mutt, who charmed everyone she met and behaved like a model citizen. It was hard not to feel like a minor celebrity's PR manager when people recognized her and ran over to meet us. I loved seeing her through other people's eyes and the laughter she elicited as she slouched against a vendor display or stood up on the table to see what the humans were eating. I am proud of myself that I didn't underestimate her and decide not to take her, or overestimate her comfort level and cause her undue distress. She made me look like a good trainer when the truth is she's just a good dog. We made a great team and it was a solace and delight to have her at my side - it was most definitely a positive experience for us both.