Shelby usually has a very reliable recall, so reliable in fact, that I have trusted her off leash since she was about four months old. So reliable, that she has turned from giving chase to a full flock of sheep to return to me. A few days ago, however, something went wrong.
As many of my “bad day” stories begin, this one began with me running late on my morning schedule. I don’t know what possesses me to think hitting the snooze button an extra couple times is a good idea some mornings, but some mornings, I do. This was one of them.
Hurriedly, I raced through my morning routine. I strapped on Shelby’s leash and flew outside. Because I was running late, I’d encroached on my neighbor’s morning ritual of taking her new lab puppy out to go potty. Shelby, delighting in all things dog, laid down, “Mom, can I go and play with the new puppy, please?”
“Shelby, we don’t have time. Come on.” I tried to get her to the other side of the property where the pup was no longer in her sight. It didn’t matter though, she just kept trying to pull me back to the puppy. As I started to become more and more frustrated, I tried to explain to Shelby that we didn’t have time to play with the puppy this morning and that her behavior was unacceptable and annoying. She didn’t much care. After a few minutes of heated arguing (on my part, Shelby just kept lying down, waiting for me to cue her to go play), the neighbor brought the puppy in. But then it was rabbits and birds and chickens Shelby wanted to chase. I knew, deep down, that this was my fault, she was used to have a morning rabbit chasing session before our go to the bathroom walk, and the predictability of our routine had set her up to fail on this particular occasion. Frustrated, I dropped the leash and told her to just go already.
Go she did, ripping up and down and around the yard. To her credit, she did her business as well. As soon as she was done crouching, I recalled her. She sniffed her pee, and I recalled again. I normally don’t ever recall my dog when she is immersed in sniffing her own pee, but today, the running late was getting to me. My voice started to escalate, I found myself screaming at her for no reason whatsoever. The rage boiled up. I have no idea why I was so angry except that I wasn’t feeling particularly well, and I kept looking at my watch and my “damn disobedient dog”. Instead of taking a deep breath and walking in the house to get a special treat, which is what I should have done, I stalked across the yard mumbling, “Shelby, I’m going to murder you when I catch you.”
As soon as I got close, Shelby took off, leaving the boundary of the yard, something she never, ever does. She took off down the street, and I gave chase. What a stupid human. She weaved in and out of the houses in the neighborhood, panting and sniffing and staying just out of my reach, then she circled back into our yard, where I should have praised her. Instead, I started crying, hysterically.
“Shelby,” I whined, “Please come back, I don’t feel good, and I’m tired. I don’t want to chase you.”
I really hope no one in my neighborhood saw this pathetic sight, I can’t even believe I’m writing about it in all honesty. This may give you an insight, however, into why Joe doesn’t want to be around me when I’m sick. I’m not a particularly pleasant person.
In a normal state of mind, I would never have attempted to call Shelby again at this point. I would have cued her to lie down and told her to stay while I walked forward and put her leash on. I don’t know why I tried recalling her again. But I did. And she kept running away. Brilliant. Over a year of recall training, and I was tearing it apart in one angry morning walk.
I threw my hands up, my chest heaving in rage and exhaustion. Shelby just stayed on the outskirts of my reach. What a bad dog, I thought to myself, what a stupid, miserable, horrible creature. Why did I ever get a dog?
Then, reason came back to me, out of the blue. Ah yes, I’m supposed to know better than this. Right…I took a deep, deep breath, focusing on letting the tension fall out of my back muscles. I cracked my neck, closed my eyes, thought Zen thoughts and said very calmly, “Shelby, lie down.”
Shelby hit the deck.
I walked to her and fastened on her leash, while she thumped her tail and stretched up to lick my face, “Geez mom, if you’d just asked nicely the first time.”
I didn’t grab her scruff and shake her, but boy did I think about it. When we got in the house, I thought about not giving her breakfast, but of course I did. I glared at her while I put her kibble in her bowl, then purposely stepped where she would have to jump out of the way while I went into the fridge to get the venison to add to her meal. She just sat there, tongue lolling, tail wagging, grinning ear to ear, “Boy, wasn’t that a fun game of chase! Mom, do you know how funny you look when you go all crazy at me?”
“Mmmhmm…keep it up dog, I can put this venison back in the fridge where I found it.”
Of course, once at work and calmed down, I felt terribly guilty about my erratic behavior. Worried that I’d broken our bond, I went to the store after work and bought Shelby her own tiny tub of vanilla ice cream. When I walked in the house, she greeted me as she always does, with a whine and an excited bark, and a leap onto the couch where I can pet her. After I greeted her, and she yipped to me about her day, I presented her with the ice cream. She grabbed it and ran into her crate. Peace and order were restored, even if she had no idea that the ice cream was a peace offering to assuage my guilt.
Her recall does need refreshing. I took her out on a long line on Sunday and began to re-solidify the foundations. I hadn’t realized how rusty she’d gotten since we started our new desensitization regiment. Did I ruin 18 months of training by being crazy? No, not really, but I did set us back some, which is unavoidable in some respects, I suppose. I did learn a valuable lesson about my dog though – she doesn’t come to crazy, and rightly so.