I was leaving for a walk with my dogs the other day when all three suddenly looked toward my neighbors’ yard to watch their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel bounding in our direction. Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker had never met the dog, but they see her quite often through the fence and across several backyards.
When I saw the chestnut-and-white interloper aiming straight for us, my first thought was: What a great opportunity to practice focus! I had my three pups sit and look at me — not the canine distraction — and all were rewarded. I thought this would give my neighbors time to call their dog back.
I heard the husband calling, “Here, Buffy. Come, Buffy. Come on, Buffy. Buffy! Come on back! Want a treat?”
If you have to call your dog 18 different ways, if you have to mention “treat,” if your voice starts to take on that begging and pleading tone while your dog trots merrily away from you as if you’re mere background noise, you — and your dog — have a problem.
Even if my dogs had met Little Miss Cavalier, I don’t like having a loose dog approach when my three are leashed. Dogs can be more reactive and unpredictable when encountering another dog who isn’t tethered. I try not to put my pups into unpredictable situations where I don’t have control.
Not a recipe for a friendly meet-and-greet with a dog on our territory.
Okay, I thought, let’s just start walking away from the Buffy. There are no sidewalks in my rural-ish neighborhood, so we headed out onto the street. I thought this would give Mr. Neighbor a little more time and space to retrieve his wayward spaniel.
I was handing out treats fast and furious by this time, which made my dogs quite happy to stay focused on me.
“Buffy! BUFFY! Come back! Here’s a treat! A TREAT! Want a TREAT?”
I looked over my shoulder in time to see the dog bounding through our yard and into the street. Her human was running after her, calling and yelling nonsense, while she gaily galloped toward us.
A worst-case scenario blew through my head: a car swerving around me and my gang and not seeing the other small dog coming down the road.
I realized if I stayed on the street, I was putting Buffy at risk, so we turned back into my driveway while I hoped I could control the inevitable encounter. In the meantime, I fed Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker a constant stream of compliments and treats.
At that point, my neighbor burst through my forsythia bushes and scooped up his escapee. He gave me a nod and walked back to his home, gently scolding his dog.
This whole scene took about a minute to unfold. As I watched my neighbor head back toward his house, with Buffy’s fluffy tail wagging over his arms, I let out a big sigh of relief. Followed by a heap of praise and treats and pets and loving for my dogs.
Which was then followed by a slew of unprintable curse words muttered under my breath.
This story had a happy ending. It could so easily have had an unbearably sad one. I chose to put my dogs in an uncomfortable and unpredictable situation rather than put another dog in danger.
And while I would do it again, I hated having to make that decision.
What’s the lesson here, folks?
Train your dog to come when called. It is a matter of life and death.
Every dog — I don’t care if you never take him out except on a leash — should have a good recall. A recall that’s strong enough to make your dog come to you no matter how interesting something else is. A recall that you can count on. A recall that can save your dog’s life.
And that takes practice. Practice that continues throughout the dog’s life. Test now again to make sure the recall is still there and ensure that when your dog comes when called, she gets rewarded. Never punished. Ever.
And practice and reward, over and over again. Because you love your dog.
About the author: Susan C. Willett is a writer, photographer, and blogger whose award-winning original stories, photography, poetry, and humor can be found on the website Life With Dogs and Cats. She lives in New Jersey with four shelter cats (including Calvin T. Katz, the Most Interesting Cat in the World) and three dogs (all rescues) and at least a couple of humans — all of whom provide inspiration for her work. In addition to Life With Dogs and Cats, you can find more Lilah, Jasper and Tucker (and the rest of the gang) on Haiku by Dog™, Haiku by Cat™, and Dogs and Cats Texting™.