“And I’d Do It Again”

In the six months that Sasha has been with us, we’ve encountered dozens of dogs and their owners. (Hundreds, if you count the veritable sea of wagging tails at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ fundraising celebration in the park.) We’ve encountered them on neighborhood walks, along the trail system, in community parks. We’ve met them in kennels, vet clinics, and in training classes. We cross paths at Lowes, PetSmart, and a few other dog-friendly businesses. Usually, the dogs are leashed, the owners are polite, and everyone goes about their day. Good dogs, responsible owners. Those are the happy times.

And then there are the dog owners who are, frankly, clueless. You’ve seen them, and I’ll venture a guess you’ve seen them more often than you’d like. The clueless are often glued (metaphorically) to their smartphones instead of focusing on their dog. They’re the ones using fully-extended flexible leashes in crowded locations, leaving them too far from their dog to intercede if trouble begins. And then there are the owners who think leash laws apply to everyone except their dogs.

When Sasha and I come across those clueless ones, I’ll change direction to avoid crossing paths or getting tangled in those long leash lines. If a detour isn’t practical I’ll move off to the side and out of their path, then put Sasha in a sit-stay until they pass. When an unleashed dog comes our way, I do my best to warn them off with a loud “NO!” or “GO BACK!” Add a sharp thump of my walking stick and that’s often enough to deter a dog that’s unwilling to confront an angry human. Sometimes, though, that’s just not enough.

Make no mistake: I am my dog’s advocate. I will not allow any person or dog to cause her harm in any way. And that most certainly includes those clueless owners who allow their dogs to run unleashed, and who think they can excuse themselves by yelling “It’s okay, don’t worry. He’s friendly!”

News flash: it’s not okay, and I worry about owners who don’t respect boundaries, or who are offended when told to control their dog. If I’m in a good mood and know Sasha is safe, I tend to view these interactions as “teachable moments” for both human and dog. But if I have the slightest doubt about our well-being, I’ll do whatever’s necessary. And after reading the following post by Doranna Durgin (dog trainer, writer, and overall peace-loving person), I’m thinking of adding a few items to my dog-walk kit!

And I’d Do It Again

Congratulations, Dog Owner! You pushed your dog’s luck until you broke it.

You know, eventually you were bound to run into someone who was ready for you. Today, that was me.

Of course, you knew there would be trouble the instant you saw us. I saw you freeze as your off-leash dog noticed my quiet smaller dog. I heard the hint of panic in your voice as you said, “Dog! No!”

Undoubtedly you already knew that even from a mere ten feet away, you would have no control over your pet. I also saw your failed body block, your full-length attempt at a tackle. You are young and athletic, and the tackle was impressive.

But your dog had no trouble evading you.

Dog Owner, there’s a reason I carry a handful of surveyor flags when I track on campus, and you are it. Your dog is it. Of decent size, of a lineage that includes reactive, snappish, and intense behavior. And, of course, off-leash.

Usually when a dog comes our way, I have time to smack the ground with those surveyor flags, or swish the air. Little orange flags on short wire sticks—they make a satisfying swoosh and a big lot of noise, and no dog has tried to get past them. But your dog ran at us with such speed and intensity that for the first time ever, I had no choice but to strike.

I whapped my surveyor flags hard across his nose. It probably hurt. Maybe even a lot.

Your dog was stunned. He tucked tail and ran back to you, just as I meant him to do.

You were stunned, too. You said, “You hit my dog!”

I said, “Yes I certainly did.”

You said, “He wouldn’t have hurt you!!”

Let us both stop and absorb the absurdity of this claim for a moment. Never mind that my dog was still baying alarm and warning, and would never, ever have welcomed yours. What, exactly, did you think your dog intended to do at the tooth end of his charge? Do you have any understanding of dog body language at all?

No, don’t answer that.

I said, “This is a leash area. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near me.”

For instance, closing in at top speed so I didn’t even have the time to warn him off. My arms are only of a certain length, you know. If your dog isn’t well inside my bubble, there’s no way I can do anything but warn him. That’s certainly the way I prefer it.

By now you were trying to collect your dog, but since you had no leash and no control, your only option was to pick him up. You said, “You HIT MY DOG!!”

I was moving on toward my start flag. I said, “Yes, and if he comes back over here I’ll do it again.”

You said, “Shut up!!”

I said, “No, I won’t. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near us.”

You repeated yourself and I said again, still moving on, that I wouldn’t be silenced.

Props to you. You didn’t resort to cursing or try to intimidate me. Mostly, I think, this was because you were trying to gather the Frisbee while still carrying your dog. Once you had it, you left, forced to carry the dog all the way back to the pleasant spot you and your friends had staked out as Frisbee Base One.

Look, Dog Owner. I get it. I actually think you reacted pretty well in the aftermath—given your state of cluelessness, I mean. You contained your dog; you didn’t shriek or scream or threaten. You were truly horrified that your dog had been hit. And then you left.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sorry I hit your dog.

I did the right thing, with exactly the right force, at exactly the right moment. I protected not only myself, but my own dog. It’s possible that your dog carries welts; it’s even possible that an eye was scratched. You’re incredibly lucky that I had the presence of mind to bring those flags down across his muzzle instead of across his head and eye area, or it could indeed have been worse.

I’m pretty sure you don’t see it that way. I don’t imagine you have even one friend in the Frisbee crew with enough sense to say, “Dude, your dog went for her. What was she supposed to do?”

I’m not sorry I hit your dog.

However, I’m very, very sorry that you failed your dog so badly. I don’t dare to hope that you learned something from it, but I hope that he did. Because the next person you come across might not have any protection at all, or she might have a gun (it is, after all, an open carry state). Either way, you don’t often get second chances.

And yes, I’ll do it again.

*

My thanks to Doranna for generously allowing me to repost this in its entirety. If you’d like to read more of Doranna’s work, be sure to check out her website or her Amazon author page. My personal favorites are her Dale Kinsall mysteries featuring a Beagle named Sully. Give them a try!

Tracking Dog Wreckcellent

If you’ve read Deadly Ties you know the characters include a Beagle, Mr. B, who’s retired from federal service and who doesn’t track (at least not in a traditional sense, anyway). I also have a Labrador Retriever, Sam, who does track and will work with the county Search & Rescue team in forthcoming books. As part of my research for the dogs in the series I read everything I could find, followed county search teams, tagged along with handlers and trainers, and asked endless questions. (To everyone who patiently answered my questions, thank you!)

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that every dog (and every handler) brings their own personality, their own attitude, their own style to the work. That lesson comes clear in this post about two very different Beagles, written by the fabulous author, dog trainer, and animal lover Doranna Durgin. Originally posted on the Book View Cafe, Doranna has generously allowed me to repost her article in its entirety here on my blog. Enjoy!

Tracking Dog Wreckcellent

0711.connery.teeter.LJIt can be hard to work with genius.

Take Connery Beagle. He’s honest and hardworking and loves to sing his song of self, and did I mention honest? By which I mean internally as well as externally. He’s not so tangled in his inner thoughts that he gets in his own way.

But Dart’s an unusual boy. He vibrates with atomic intensity, he’s brilliant, and he desperately wants to be good and right. But he’s so emotional—and so completely devoid of impulse control—that he constantly gets in his own way.

Thus, when he can’t stop himself from stealing things from the trash, he brings them to me in confession, his mouth soft with pride and his tail wagging low in apology. When he can’t stop his jealousy, he clings to me and says, “Sorry sorry sorry!” with pleading eyes…as he growls fiercely, usually at Connery. When he knows he’s broken rules, he sprints around the house at top speed, giggling maniacally and blowing off embarrassment. He resource guards, he winds himself up tight over girls in his yard, he shrieks protest at separation from me/in need of me…

That list goes on. We’ve at least eliminated the part where he pees on my pillow when he’s upset. And when we lost Rena Beagle and he again started shrieking at intervals through the night, I gave up and brought a crate into the bedroom. Now I never hear a peep.

"Training time!  Train the Beagle!"

But he is genius. When he gets it right, he gets it really, really right. He does it with style and verve. He makes your heart flutter!

When he took his Tracking Dog (TD) test, it was 30F with baseline 60mph winds and higher gusts. Dart’s was the final track, out on the flat plain during the worst of it. No one expected him to pass.

He did.

So when he started having issues with the advanced tests—the Variable Surface Test and the Tracking Dog Excellent test—it was baffling.

It’s not that he didn’t pass (we’re talking about tests with single-digit pass rates), it’s how he didn’t pass. His behavior on the track didn’t reflect either his training behavior or his skillset.

I addressed some training issues and he very nearly passed the VST at the end of last year, though his tracking style was still entirely different from the norm. Then he did an awesome fun match TDX track early this year, with what I would have called “normal tracking” for him. But at our recently held test?

Dart hauling forward on the January TDX fun match track


Nada. Nothing. No dog.
He made the first turn without his usual confidence and then turned into another dog.

Well, eventually, if the human is lucky, she figures it out. I got an inkling at the VST and have cemented it with the recent TDX.

You see, there’s too much scent around on the track.

Typical.

The tests are held on Sundays. On Saturday, the two judges, the tracklayer, and for TDX the stakers*,and sometimes another tracklayer or a newbie learning the ropes, all walk the track together.

Most people consider this a boon. Instead of a single layer of scent, it’s a whole highway being laid down–easier for the dog to follow, right? But then overnight, the scents shift and pool and age, and the next day the tracklayer walks over it anew. Three to five hours later, the dog comes along to follow the scent of the tracklayer.

*Stakers pound in tall wooden stakes at the start, turns, and end so the tracklayers lay the test track with complete accuracy while out in the field.

Dart: But the Target Person scents are tangled with two layers and all these other scents on the track at the same time! So I should puzzle out ALL THE SCENTS.

So he circles and frets and sniffs and works out all the spreading scent pools, all the while knowing that he’s not actually quite doing his job. Then he panics and picks out the nearest clearest scent and takes it.

This is usually not someone who’s got anything to do with the test at all.

(At the VST, he came within 100 yards of passing before he hit his panic point, so at least there’s that. But I believe only three people had walked that track during plotting.)

So now I’m brainstorming how to provide him with these circumstances in practice. It’s gonna take putting in a short permatrack here on the homefront and begging some volunteers to walk it in turn, creating a variety of scent tracks and ages…but only one correct, most recent scent.

In the meantime, remember that ConneryBeagle? He worked hard to pass his TD; his first test was on a track that should have been discarded (it had been fouled, and he got caught in it), and then he was sinus-sick for a couple years (which he still is, but now it’s better managed). Then he passed on a track of TDX terrain on a brittle 4F day—he was a marvel! Then I stopped training tracking with him for a year or so because we just weren’t sure it was fair to ask for tracking given his sinuses.

But fifteen months ago I threw him on a VST track for fun and he was SO DAMNED HAPPY.

So we started tracking again, and a couple months ago he did an amazing job on the VST (did not pass—his bobble was at the beginning). He, too, made it into the TDX test this year.

He ran track #5 for the day. It was unseasonably hot and dry, and I soaked him down. He tracked through a brushy arroyo, at which point the judges were (unusually) close enough so their discussion of Connery’s step-by step track through the maze of scrub, rocks, and pricker bushes was audible. After that he went three-legged until I could close the distance and pull a big cactus pod from his foot. A series of long legs and turns and back through the arroyo we went, and…

THE GLOVE!

cb.tdx.smile.687

He was SO proud of himself. He sang his song of self and at home, bounded around with puppy-like glee until he curled up in his Connery Bed with waves of happiness rolling off his back.

So now Connery will track on toward the VST until he makes the decision not to, while Dart continues to refine his out-of-control geniusosity. He says it’s not easy to be a Beagle of Wreckcellence.

Tell me about it…yymm.dd.dart.storycover.28.NOT.SM

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Hidden Steel by Doranna DurginDoranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.

She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…

Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of theChangespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughterand A Feral Darkness. Whee!

Not coincidentally, Doranna’s books tend to have DOGS in them!

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About Doranna Durgin

Doranna’s Blue Hound Beagles posts sometimes first appear at her WordPlay blog, along with chatter about horses, high desert living, and sometimes even writing. Her Book View Cafe titles can be found right here. She can also be found at doranna.net, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.