When your dog puts you to the test

This Side Up


These were good vibes. How could there not be; with the morning sun reflecting off the bay, a gentle southerly wind that showed all signs of building by early afternoon and temperatures in the 70s? Summer has arrived suddenly and it feels wonderful, even if the grass is on high speed and once you’ve finished with the backyard, it’s time to start mowing the front yard again.

Even Ollie was taking the summer-like morning in stride. Usually up with the first light, he was still asleep by the time the first flights left Green and much of the world was wide-awake.

We felt blessed with no need to rush anywhere.

For a change, and to give Carol time for herself, I told her I would take Ollie for his morning walk. She was hesitant. This has been her chore almost ever since we adopted this spotted coon hound in February. She reminded me of his harness and what leash she uses.

Ollie was in his crate. He didn’t look to be in a rush, not like other mornings where he would spring forth as soon as the latch is triggered. He stretched his lanky form, yawned and sneezed. He gave me a friendly nuzzle. He was ready to go.

I snapped on the leash. Carol secured the harness.

What Bob Midwood of Golden Dog Trainers instructed kicked in: Facing Ollie with my back to the door, I opened it. In theory, I should be in control and step out first. Then, with a gentle tug on the leash, Ollie would follow.

It didn’t exactly happen that way. He saw the opening and brushed by. It wasn’t a headlong rush, nor was he pulling me out on the deck.

It was a minor indiscretion that I would let go. Maybe that’s how it began. An inch becomes a mile and, before you knew it, that quiet morning walk becomes a chase.

Was I being lulled?

Was Ollie thinking, “Let’s try this instead of the howling and the tugging?” Or was he, like us, in low gear and simply enjoying the morning? It would help to understand a dog’s mind, because, I suspect he didn’t have a plan.

The morning air delivered some interesting scents. I could tell. Ollie’s nose quivered as he surveyed the yard. He was ready to check things out, sniff out who had crossed the yard the night before. The road holds special fascination and he headed from the driveway gate. The gate was closed. We checked it out and we headed to the seawall … the next point of entry. He strained at the leash to sniff one corner of the yard. Then it was to the other after walking perilously along the wall’s edge. Water lapped at the wall’s base.

The time he leapt from the wall – a jump of at least six feet, which we mistakenly thought was enough to dissuade him – was at low tide with the beach exposed. Since that jump, we only allowed Ollie off his leash at high tide. This morning was half-tide. It seemed high enough to let him run free.

He greeted this liberty by bounding across the yard and then diligently patrolling the yard’s perimeter. Everything was under control, or so it seemed. Bob’s instructions came to mind. I whistled, hoping he would come loping across the yard. Ollie didn’t appear. Where had he gone? Had he found a hole in the fence, slithered under the gate?

I went to check. Sure enough, he was at the gate, fascinated as ever by early morning joggers and people out walking their dogs.

He spotted me and resumed his patrol, heading on a run for the seawall. Again, he walked the very edge and then reaching the end where the tide had retreated, without hesitation, he jumped the six feet.

I was incredulous. The morning suddenly changed. Carol had seen it, too.

I had trusted Ollie, and Carol had trusted me.

Now it was up to me to get him back.

Bob’s words played in my mind.

“Call him,” he advised. It was more than just a call. Once the dog looked, I was to kneel down, as if there wasn’t a care in the world, or look off in another direction so the dog would be thinking, “What’s he looking at? Maybe I should come back and check it out?”

It worked when we had Ollie on a 30-foot rope. He’d look around and decide we had something better for him to do.

I tried the call. Ollie didn’t as much as slow his pace or turn his head. He was off down the beach, stepping around rocks and wading in the water. It was more of a determined trot, like he knew just where he was going, rather than a run for freedom. That was reassuring, I thought.

Bob advised not to panic in such situations, as that would excite the dog. Take it easy. Take a deep breath. Demonstrate confidence and control.

Yep, this would be fine. Ollie didn’t slacken his pace. The distance between us grew. I was losing ground.

Surely Ollie would come across some fascinating scent and would want to mark the spot, or he would tire. But he just kept going, even though he had run out of beach and was now in the water.

There was something else in the water, too, and Ollie didn’t take to it. A swan headed in his direction. For the first time since his leap, Ollie turned around. He looked worried. He headed toward me.

Wow, I thought, he’s coming to his protector. This was going to work out.

Guess again.

As soon as he could, Ollie climbed the stone embankment, trotted across a lawn and disappeared.

I caught up with him as he was checking out the fence to a yard that usually has two large dogs. I clipped on the leash and began the walk home. I had everything under control … or did I?

When Carol arrived with the car, I think she concluded that I needed to go back to Bob for some more training. I wasn’t to be trusted with Ollie yet.


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