Friday, January 4, 2008

Because Y'All Are Too Polite to Ask

You're all so well-bred, but I know you want to know how I got the huge bruise on my ass. I fear that at this late date it will be somewhat anticlimactic, but a promise is a promise.

It was about an hour before the first of the Hanukkah party guests were due to arrive, and most of the prep was done. The house was presentable, the leg of lamb was in the oven and on schedule, and I had even remembered to stick candles in the menorah. All that was left was for me to jump in the shower and change clothes, with time to spare.

Theo had been full of piss and vinegar all afternoon, chasing the deck squirrels from the inside of the sliding deck door, begging for chopped vegetables, and generally making a nuisance of himself. When he started baying at the deck door, though, I knew something was up. Occasionally red foxes slink out of the woods behind our house -- they creep up the side of the deck, or up our neighbor's driveway, and are generally very camera-shy. It is quite a coup to spot one, and my antennae were up. I carefully opened the deck door about three inches to ease myself out and do some recon.

Big mistake. Theo lunged at the sliver of open door and barreled over me as if I wasn't there. The deck was a bit slick from an earlier rain, and I went ass-over-tit in quite the most spectacular way. I think you can guess what I landed on. Theo made tracks as only a 2-year-old goldendoodle on a mission can, and Michael and the kids scrambled after him while I regained my feet (but not my dignity).

(It is important to note that Theo's most egregious area of misbehavior is when he escapes in the Great Outdoors. He does not come when called, he deliberately eludes humans and evades capture at all costs. We have been very very lucky thus far that we have always been able to corral him, usually thanks to his inability to ignore other doggies that he encounters. Our extremely unscientific and marginally effective method is to use a little misdirection and pounce on him while he is busy sniffing the other dog's butt.)

So now I am unshowered, ass-bruised, with guests arriving in an hour, and have a dog on the loose in the wilds of Swarthmore. I jumped in the car to circle around to the opposite side of the woods while Michael and the kids gave chase on foot. Unfortunately, Michael didn't grab his cell phone on the way out the door, so we had no way of communicating. Imagine a high-speed chase with a pillowcase over your head, and that will give you some idea of how effective we were. I circled the woods twice, getting out of the car and calling for Michael several times, but I had lost them completely. I zig-zagged all of the streets leading to home, planning to check the house and then set out in the opposite direction, expecting and fearing the worst -- that Theo had made a break for freedom across the busy street two blocks away.

I cannot express my relief at seeing Quin in the doorway as I pulled up the house. I knew there was no way Quin would have given up mid-chase. And indeed, Theo had encountered some doggy friends one house away from the busy street two blocks away, and had stopped for a sniff -- enabling Michael and the kids to surround and capture him.

(It turned out Theo had seen a cat on our deck.)

I know we were lucky -- again -- this time. The only lasting damage was to my ass and dignity (and my ass eventually healed). But I'd welcome any suggestions for dealing with the Dog as Escape Artist. He is fairly responsive to the command "come" when in the confines of our house, but out in the Free World, we may as well be speaking Swahili to him. Or Hebrew.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu l'had'lik neir shel Chanukah.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
she'asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim haheim baziman hazeh.

Happy belated Hanukkah, everyone.


O said...

Oh, Theo and Ginger must compare notes.
We microchipped her since we figure, this is how we got such a great dog to begin with.
The other thing we do to catch her is that we have gotten to know her habits. She always ends up at the old elementary school field. So now I just take 10 minutes getting the boys ready and in the car, and drive down the street to get her. (Oh, that's the other trick: if I'm in the car, she assumes we're going somewhere and she'd better come Right Now or be stuck in the wild. So even if we're staying home, we drive.)
Good luck figuring out where Theo wants to be. Sounds like your own backyard is a good spot at least!

Anonymous said...

Ok, well, you know I would respond to this!

Come is one of the hardest commands, especially since it is one of the hardest to be A) consistent with, B) look at it from the dog's perspective.

First, the worst mistake people make with their dogs is when the dog is mis-behaving (let's say trampling your favorite garden bed) to call the dog to them, then punish the dog for the mis-behavior that took place "over there". Dogs can't reason beyond a 2 yo level. If the dog is mis-behaving, you must go to the dog and reprimand it where it is. If you call the dog to you and it comes, you MUST ALWAYS tell him how good and wonderful he is! ALWAYS! No matter how mad you were at him 2 seconds ago as he destroyed that rare Lady's Slipper, he is now a Good Dog for coming to you.

Next, you need to train outside first without distractions (other dogs) then with other dogs. Attach a long line to Theo's collar--like a 100 foot clothesline. This will give you the ability to always grab him. Then, go outside, let him wander a bit away from you, then call his name and start running as fast you can away from him. If he has a favorite tug toy--wave that toy in the air as you're running, throw a ball in the direction you're going. Anything to get him to run with you. Dogs LOVE to play chase, so he should come running! When he "catches" you, lots of praise, treats, perhaps some tugs with a tug toy or throw a ball, whatever his favorite game is. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat..... If he doesn't chase after you, grab the long line, go BACK to where you were when you first called his name, and reel him in. When you get him to you, tell him that he's a good boy! Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

You want him to think that coming to you is ALWAYS more fun than anything else and is ALWAYS going to be something he is rewarded for.

But, you also need to teach him some self-control. I would teach him the Wait command. Just because you open a door does not mean he can slip out that door. No matter what is going on outside, my dogs know they're not allowed out the door just because I open it. And, trust me, when the horses are out there galloping around, the dogs want nothing more than to go out there and chase them. But, I can tell them to Wait, open the door and I can walk through and close the door behind me. They might be whining and crying and barking, but they're just not allowed to go out without permission. I'm just too old to be worrying about dogs knocking me off my feet. And, if I get hurt, it could be days before someone finds me. :-(

Easier said than done, I know. Consistency and make it fun for the dog.

Good luck!


we_be_toys said...

Ow! Hope your tushy is feeling better! I love the Menorah lighting picture - cool angle!