Usually I try to make these posts a bit poetic, a little lyrical and, notwithstanding the underlying message, a fraction funny. Today, I think it’s time to be honest and upfront and say: I am AMAZED and FASCINATED! Of course, these are not necessarily the words I might prefer to use but I choose them in order to maintain my Be a Wrangler! zen-like approach to life.
Yesterday morning we went for a walk with a few beasties, the few who REALLY like going to the beach for a swim. They were all very happy and proudly dressed in their bright yellow ID vests telling the world they are owned and loved. As we approached the inland end of the passage next to the Russian building a couple were walking towards us along the passage with their dog. We retreated behind a wall and let our beasties sniff about as dog and family climbed into their vehicle and drove off. Potential crisis averted! We came back around the corner for our second try at getting to the beach down the “Russian Passage”. Not too far along the passage a woman with her dog entered the passage behind us. She wasn’t too close but she wasn’t far enough away either, so we kept an eye on distance and moved forward. Then, about 3/4s of the way along the passage, an off-leash dog appeared at the beach end of the passage and headed towards us.
So let’s summarise: 2 handlers, each with multiple dogs in a narrow and confined space, an off-leash dog headed straight for us and another person with dog behind us. No escape. What would you do? Well, for my, and my dogs’, protection and safety I chose to GET OUT OF THERE!!! It seemed the only rational thing to do!
How? – is the question and the perfect tool is the “step back recall”!
I looked forward and back to get the lay of the land, gave a little tug on the leashes, made kissy noises in the air and said “come on, let’s go!” in a positive and happy voice (to keep my beasties’ “happy” brain chemistry for as long possible) and started quick-stepping backwards. After a step or two I had my beasties’ attention and momentum in the direction from which we had come and looked over my shoulder for obstacles, still quick stepping backwards. I knew from my last glance forward that the off-leash dog was still coming towards us.
As I looked over my shoulder, I saw the lady behind me stop, look at the situation and, taking a firm, wide legged stance on the only path coming or going along the passage, bend over and pick up her dog. It was clear from here body language and stance that she had chosen a fight response……while holding her dog…….. giving all of us no way out.
All of this happened in a very few seconds but so often it is those few seconds that can make all the difference in how a difficult situation turns out. My back stepping quickly got me to the point of not being able to go back any farther without concern of creating a second difficult situation for all of the beasties and handlers now locked in the passage. I was disappointed to see the lady behind me had no intention of backtracking as a means of diffusing the growing tension but rather chose to take her stand right there and then. Knowing the off-leash dog was heading for all of us I called out “Don’t pick up your dog, you’re putting yourself in danger!” holding my I’m trying to back out of this situation body language. In reply she said “I AM picking up my dog. It was bitten by a wadi before”.
Understand that in such a situation, leaving the dog on the ground means you are faster on your feet and more able to move away quickly, your hands are free to do whatever needs to be done and you minimise the risk of your own personal injury. Don’t make yourself a target! Dog bites hurt! They often do more damage to you than to your dog, cost more in time and money to treat and heal and often leave long lasting scars and injuries to a human body. With that in mind it makes by far more sense to leave your dog on the ground and step the dog back well away from the danger – keeping both you and the dog safe and helping your dog stay in a positive frame of mind. Sometimes, space is all that is needed to diffuse a tense situation.
Train for the best. Plan for the worst.
After a short exchange behind me, realising I had no way out, I looked forward to see the off leash dog move away to what I assumed was its out of sight handler. Phew! We started moving forward again. Just as we came to the end of the passage, the dog ran past us, its leash flapping behind it followed closely by dad! Dad told the dog to “stop!” and “down!” which the dog did and then dad walked up to it and hit the dog ….with its own ball throw toy. Now, it wasn’t a very hard hit, admittedly, but that is not the point. The point is that the dog was punished for doing exactly what it had been asked to do – stop and down – and it was punished with something that is meant to represent joy and fun.
My automatic reaction was to say “awwww, don’t hit him!”. After all, we had all just managed to avert what could have been complete chaos. At that moment “mum” appeared in view saying “he didn’t hit HER!” as though, in the context of what we had all just experienced the dog’s gender somehow mattered the most.
So here is my honest and genuine message, step back recall works. It’s a great tool to know and use in any situation to build and maintain focus between you and your dog and to keep you and your dog out of trouble if trouble happens upon you. Besides, “hitting the frog and toad” does not mean you are cowardly. It means you are smart. Follow up a dog’s obedience with praise. It’s important to tell him (or her) what they did just in that moment, and not any of the craziness that happened before, was important to you.
After all, pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Keep on Wrangling!