Last weekend, Rigby and I took a road trip to UC Davis for Picnic Day, the university’s annual open house. The event is super pet-friendly since most everything is outdoors: parades, exhibitions, food trucks, and even dog sport demos.
Having so many new sights, smells, and sounds in one place made for some great training and socialization — an added benefit to a fun-filled day!
Training Opportunities Galore
Picnic Day involves lots of loud noises and instruments: rock bands play on the Quad, frat houses blast music, and the Cal Aggie Marching Band plays virtually non-stop from 10am to 10pm, often with alumni joining in.
Since I’m an alumna of the marching band, I knew I’d need to work with Rigby beforehand to get her extra comfortable around similar sounds. In the weeks before we left for our trip, I took Rigby to some drumline performances around Portland. We’d start really far away, then slowly move closer to the drums, keeping the treats flowing (with some high-value turkey thrown in for especially loud parts).
Desensitization refers to repeated exposure to a stimulus, starting at a very low intensity and building slowly so as to keep the dog under threshold (no signs of anxiety).
This is often paired with Classical Counterconditioning, where a potentially aversive stimulus (like loud noise) is followed by a reward, with the goal being an involuntary positive reaction.
Once we were in Davis, we were able to attend the marching band’s dress rehearsal for their parade performance, and followed similar steps — lots of treats and praise! Rigby (and her new friend Stout) were totally unfazed, even with the full band playing a few feet away.
One thing I forgot to do was introduce Rigby to the instruments themselves! At one point she saw a mellophone on a bench and did her “what the heck is that??” dance. It was a perfect opportunity to use the “go check it out” game, and before we knew it, she was sticking her snoot right into a trumpet.
Operant Conditioning is distinct from classical conditioning in that you’re molding a conscious behavior, as opposed to an involuntary reaction.
This is often achieved using Positive Reinforcement, where you encourage a behavior (in this case, sniffing a strange brass instrument) using rewards.
She never quite trusted the clarinets, though.
When the day of the parade came, everything went perfectly. She laid down calmly while we watched the “kiddie” band perform, then marched alongside me with the alumni band (and fellow marching doggos Stout and Tilly!).
Far from being overwhelmed by the thousands of people watching, Rigby insisted on walking alongside the curb, especially if there were kids waiting to pet her.
Speaking of — kids! Picnic Day is an event that draws lots of families. I was thrilled to see so many parents making sure their kids 1. asked permission to pet, and 2. were gentle when they did. This gave Rigby lots of good socialization with little ones, especially since I could reinforce her for being calm and patient.
DIY Doggo T-shirt Design
The band wears distinctive bright blue shirts with various yellow designs, the classic one reading “Hell Yes — We’re the Cal Aggie Marching Band!” So of course, Rigby had to have one of her own:
I tried altering an old human shirt (too big) and getting one screenprinted (too expensive) before landing on my final execution: Jacquard fabric paint! I didn’t even know this stuff existed, but it’s great. Unlike cheap puff paints, you can paint this on smooth with a brush, and then heat set with an iron so it holds up in the wash.
I used a Zack & Zoey dog shirt as the base, and outlined my letters in chalk first to keep everything straight and centered. It took about four coats to get the yellow perfectly opaque, though a darker color would probably only need one or two.
Other Dog Events at Picnic Day
UC Davis is known for its veterinary program, so it makes sense that there would be tons of dog events. Most famous is the Doxie Derby, but outside dogs aren’t allowed to spectate.
Luckily, a whole bunch of awesome (pet-friendly) dog sport demos go on around midday: K-9 units do obedience and bite work, disc dogs leap for frisbees, flyball teams race for tennis balls, herding breeds corral sheep, and agility competitors weave through obstacles.
And instead of doing any of that…we took a nap. A really long, really snuggly nap.
Woops! I’d say the photos are almost as good, though.
After our power nap, we wrapped up with a walk around the arboretum, which is probably one of the best places to take a dog at UC Davis, Picnic Day or no. I don’t think I truly appreciated secluded green spaces like this until I got Rigby.
Has your dog been in a parade or an all-day event like Picnic Day? How did they do? Share in the comments below!
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