When I was four months old, Leslie felt I just wasn’t learning much human-dog disciplines—you know, all those manners that humans like to have dogs know. One day she took me and Soona to a ‘trainer’. This lady was named Sandra. I didn’t understand a word Sandra was saying, but something about her I liked. She seemed to ‘get’ me. She told Leslie that I paid too much attention to dogs, like Soona, and no attention to people. Hey, dogs ‘like’ dogs and besides, dogs are a lot smarter than people, and of course, more interesting. She told Leslie to have me come back when I was six months old.
The day finally arrived when I had to grow up. I was only six months old but I was going off, by myself, for three weeks, to live with Sandra and her dogs. It was boot camp alright—as tough as the Marines. Every day was training. Every day I resisted and tried to be tougher than Sandra. But Sandra was a lot of tough love, and way tougher than me. Sometimes she’d have a class with lots of dogs and people. She’d make me lay down for the whole class on a mat. And if I got up, yank!, I’d be right back on that mat.
One day we were at the beach with her dog, who I played with a lot. Sandra was throwing a ball for her dog. He jumped and came down on a piece of rebar. We all went to the dog hospital and they said they were going to take off his leg. But Sandra said “no”. She took good care of him at home and he got better; but because of that I had to stay a whole extra week for the training that I missed. You can imagine that after one month at boot camp, I never took my eyes, or ears, off Sandra. When she said ‘jump’, I said ‘how high?” And you know what, I felt a lot better about myself, and the world, than when I was a wild child. And boy did I love Sandra.
I had already forgotten about Leslie. I thought this was my new life. But one day Leslie appeared and took me home; only to do all the same things Sandra was doing with me every day. Sandra had told Leslie that I was one of her toughest students ever. That made me feel good. That, I thought, is character—dog character. But I’d changed. I was still the same ole’ me inside, but now I had some real discipline and could keep my attention on something for a long time. I’d grown up. Sandra said that my only ‘flaw’ was that I spooked at things that were ‘novel’ or different. But you will see as I tell my story that my weakness turns out to be my greatest strength for life in the wilds.
After ‘Camp Sandra’ I started to really like dogs AND people. From that day on my life really started. What I didn’t know was that Leslie took me to Sandra to prepare me for the kind of smarts and discipline you need to be a dog in the wilds, rather than a wild dog.
Leslie’s Notes: For a dog in the wilderness, a few commands stand out as more important than what a city dog might need. But the command every dog, whether in the wilderness or in cities must know and pay attention to right away is ‘Come’. That one command could save your dog’s life and maybe even yours. If your dog encounters a bear or runs across a busy highway, ‘Come’ is the go-to command.
Next is “Stick Around”, which means your dog must stay within 10′ or 15′ feet from you. Wild animals have their comfort zones of varying distances. This distance will keep you and your dog safe when hiking on or off-trail.
‘Leave it’. I’ve used this command in so many situations. For instance, it’s winter and your dog finds a food cache. It could be left by a wild animal and be fine to eat, but what if some crazy person has tainted it with poison, intended to kill coyotes or wolves. I’ve also taught Koda not to run after deer, turkeys, and other animals by this command alone.
Lastly, Koda knows the word ‘Wait’. If he’s getting ahead of me, sniffing around, moving too quick, that command is different than ‘stay’ as it just means to wait for me to catch up.