Author’s Note: My condolences to the victims of the Boston bombings which occurred today. Our thoughts are with you.
Imagine this scene as it played out in my backyard on Saturday afternoon: My neighbors’ eight year old black lab Ben and their four month old yellow lab Maggie, both off leash. Panzer and Shelby are both on leash, out for an evening potty break. Panzer is doped up on high levels of prednisone and tramadol and not getting as much exercise as he is used to. My neighbor, who has MS, and is experiencing vertigo, inadvertently lets her dogs out at the same time as we have ours out. Oh and Shelby’s in heat and also hasn’t been getting as much off leash exercise as she’s used to.
Shelby, Ben and Panzer all get along. Ben and Maggie get along. Shelby and Maggie get along. Shelby and Panzer get along. But Panzer and Maggie? Well, Maggie would like to believe they’re pals, but Panzer doesn’t agree. Especially not on prednisone. He doesn’t even really like Shelby (or us) on prednisone.
And the icing on the cake to this disaster? Maggie has no recall (she’s just a pup) and my neighbor can barely stand she’s so sick. Welcome to a disaster in the making.
I’ll tell you the good news first – no dogs or humans were injured in the development of this suburban nightmare. So let out a deep breath there (I know I did). This was definitely one of the afternoons where I was thanking my lucky stars that Shelby is at least friendly with other dogs.
I said in one of my posts recently that you should set your dogs up for success and when you can’t you should use a u-turn. I should write a post about how I should practice what I preach – oh good, I’m doing that now. What I should have done when this whole disaster started was say, “Uh oh!” and spin around with Shelby and walk inside, then come back outside to extract Joe and Panzer from the disaster as best I could. Instead, I stood there like an idiot, shocked that this whole thing was even happening.
It’s amazing how quickly training knowledge can fly out of your head among chaos. It’s even more amazing how quickly some events can happen. This whole scene couldn’t have lasted more than 5-10 minutes. I remained calm, mainly because Shelby was there distracting Ben and Maggie, but that doesn’t mean that I did anything that I should have.
Upon being let out of the house, Maggie and Ben immediately surged toward me, which was fine, because as soon as Joe saw the streaks of yellow and black come flying off of the neighbors’ porch, he and Panzer headed for the back of the backyard. When they reached the non-safety of being just slightly further away than Shelby and I, I focused my attention on Shelby and the two labs. I patted Ben and began giving Maggie tiny treats for sitting instead of jumping up.
This wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Panzer saw all these dogs around his mom and his sister, and he started losing his mind, barking his high pitched, slightly annoyed bark. Shelby, hearing Panzer’s distress, decided to take off after him, half dragging me with her. Stunned that I was being dragged by my always leash conscious dog, my muscles didn’t tense up, and I went along for the ride until finally I gave up and let her go.
Ben and Maggie surged after her, and before I knew what was happening there were four dogs in a pile around Joe. I didn’t hear any snapping or snarling or growling (way to go Panzer!), but I winced and recalled Shelby who (thank heavens) immediately came, which prompted me to stick out the entire roll of Natural Balance I had in my sweatshirt pocket and let her chomp merrily on it. Of course, Ben and Maggie wanted some of the big roll of meat and started jumping all over Shelby to get it. Shelby graciously pulled back and sat down while I grabbed her leash. Next thing I knew, Maggie and Shelby were playing a wonderful game of chase (around my legs) while I once again grappled with the leash, tried to keep one eye on Panzer (who was calling again for his sister) and tried to keep Ben clear of the chaos.
Our neighbor stepped in to try and grab Maggie, but she, being ill, couldn’t hold her. Maggie immediately bee-lined for some fun that was far away from mom (i.e. Panzer). “Maggie!” I called, to which the pup immediately turned around and headed back to me (the bearer of large rolls of meat). My neighbor again tried to reach down and grab Maggie, but she fell over her in the process, almost on top of my people reactive German shepherd, who, surprisingly, did not react but instead headed in the other direction, Maggie close on her heels.
Finally, I decided the madness needed to end, which meant puppy extraction. I asked the neighbor’s permission to remove her dog from the situation, dropped Shelby’s leash (who went sprinting to Panzer), grabbed the puppy’s collar and hoisted her into my arms. Seeing no other solution than to carry the squirming puppy out of the chaos, I gripped her firmly and started the trek across the lawn to our neighbors’ porch, while the neighbor walked next to me, thanking me and acting like it was no big deal and Ben heeled at my side, probably wondering what I was doing with his adopted sibling.
Once I had deposited the puppy on the porch, I turned around to find Shelby standing there, panting and grinning. I called her to a heel, which she did, chatted with the neighbor for a few moments and then ushered Shelby back across the yard and into the house, her prancing the whole way, “Yes,” I said to her, chuckling myself, “I’m sure you thought that was really fun, but it wasn’t all that fun for mommy, and I’m sure Panzer didn’t think it was very fun at all”.
It’s amusing when you know that nothing bad happened and no one was injured. It’s not at all amusing when you think about what could have happened. The whole situation had a really high potential for a bad outcome, especially with all the extenuating circumstances. And there were plenty of opportunities for me to go about attempting to fix it. Fortunately, Shelby is good with other dogs. Fortunately, Shelby does have basic training where I can feel safe to let go of her leash. Fortunately, Panzer had just started tramadol that morning and was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside from the opiates effects. Fortunatelys do not make up for sloppy training however.
If I could go back and do it again a lot would be different. I wouldn’t have let Shelby drag me for one, I would have noticed her alerting to Panzer and redirected her toward me, or at the very least braced myself to prevent her from dragging me along like a fish on a line. I wouldn’t have picked Maggie up for another; I would have taken Shelby’s leash off and put it on Maggie and led her in or let her owner lead her in. I don’t like to think that I could be the cause of any stranger issues Maggie might have in the future, my only consolation is that Maggie has gotten a lot of cookies from me before. But really, I would have liked it to have not even gotten to that point. The problem of course is that even if I had done a u-turn it would have been likely that the off leash dogs simply would have followed me. Still, that would have been preferable. I would have liked to see Joe do the same thing, instead of getting further back into the yard with more distance to cover to get to the house.
I also would have liked to have thought to throw a handful of treats for Maggie and Ben away from Panzer and Shelby to buy us some time to retreat back to the house. That would have been simple and effective and much less stressful on everyone involved. I also wish we weren’t all so stressed (especially Joe) so the situation wasn’t quite as tense as it was.
I could probably keep going on and on about this situation but I won’t. I think in closing I’ll just say – TRAINING FAIL. Hopefully I’ll remember some of this next time!