We walk our dogs, though not nearly as often as they’d have it. They would, if they had their way, walk, or run, most of the day. Every day. We, constrained by work and obligations and daily life as it is, oblige them far less often in spite of our pledges to do otherwise. It is what we have; nobody, man or beast, does what they enjoy as often as they desire.
We walk them on leashes on occasion, though this is not the preferred manner of any of the parties involved. Walking two strong-willed dogs goes like this: We find their leashes, at which time the dogs, knowing that they’re about to go for a walk, get very, uhmm, animated. I believe the technical term is “bouncing off the walls.” We affix their collars, attach the leash, take a deep breath and open the door.
The dogs pull strongly. We pull back and suggest that they “heel.” They do so reluctantly. Then we start our walk.
The two dogs are very competitive. They’ll compete for food, for time, for attention. And they each feel that they and they alone must lead, however small the margin, when we walk. Riika will surge ahead; Thor will counter. Riika will pull harder, gain back the lost ground, nose ahead. Thor responds.
Sally and I start out at a leisurely pace, the picture of a happy couple and their loyal dogs. By the end of the block we are being pulled, arms stretched out, leaning as if into a stiff wind, our sedate walk having gone to a stride and then to a trot. All by the time we hit the corner, at which point we are pulling back and, with voices raised and frantic, calling out “Heel” and “Back” as we lope along behind the happy pair of hounds, who are still seeing which can take the lead.
The dogs are all the time pulling against their sturdy collars and gagging as they do, yet each unwilling to give an inch to the other.
We shortly turn for home as our stress level builds, and once inside unleash the hounds, who promptly leap on the couch and fight over who gets the prime pillow on the end.
That is one type of walk we take our dogs on. The other is without a leash, “off lead” I believe is the term, in which the dogs run wild as they course over field and through the woods. For this brave endeavor we use what is euphemistically referred to as an “E-Collar.” Some people call them “electronic collars” and others, lacking in subtly, call them “shock collars.”
The collar has a remote controlled receiver that, when a handheld unit that we carry is activated, delivers “stimulation” to the dog. Or, if you prefer, shocks the dog.
The collars, by whatever name, are employed when the dog misbehaves in some manner. They are controversial in some circles, as the potential for abuse is undeniable. A heavy-handed dog owner can be too quick to use the collar, and the dog can suffer as a result. I’ll not pretend otherwise. And while the level of “stimulation” can be adjusted from minor to heavy, there remains a stigma about using them.
Having noted all that, we use them, although Riika and Thor now often respond to the beeper which is incorporated into the collar and which we use ahead of the shock. Our first choice is a whistle, which works most of the time to get their attention and bring them back.
We keep the collars in a small cupboard near the back door. The door to the cupboard sticks tight, and when we tug it open it makes a distinct sound. The dogs have learned to associate the sound of the cupboard door opening with the collars and react strongly. In short, when we open the door and it makes that special sound, the two dogs will race from wherever they are in the house to the back door to wait for their collars. Thor will leap as high as he can toward the collar he sees hanging from the cupboard door where we store it when not in use.
They do not, you see, connect shock collar with shock; they associate it with going for a run, and they cannot get to it fast enough.
We collar them, load them in the truck and head for field or woods, with the dogs excited to be along. The two of them fight for prime position in the front seat, jostling my arm as I try to steer, clambering on Sally’s lap, their toenails digging deep into her thigh. And when we get to the woods, they run free.
I did that this week, on a day too cool and breezy for a bike ride, an April day that reminded me of the shared feel of April and November. November brings to mind early winter; April can deliver up a reminder of the months of cold now nearly done. But the feel of a chilly day and a stiff northerly wind is the same in the 11th month as it is in the fourth. On days such as this, the dogs love to run.
They hit the ground running, the twosome, along the path to the hunting shack where they glanced back to see if I was coming, and then down the hill, as if they were pulled by a stronger force of gravity, to the lake where they splashed with gusto, then came back out, dripping wet, and ran back to greet me.
In their eyes was pure joy at the day, pure joy at the sheer act of running full bore and letting come what may. They never look happier than when they are in the woods, and when I watch them I berate myself for not taking them out more often.
I walked in the sunshine of that April day, bundled against the chill; the dogs ran full out, running into the scent of spring, the smell of tree and forest, chasing the sweet perfume of game birds and chipmunks. When I whistled they came back; I never had to use even the beeper on the collar. It was a good day.
I loaded them back up; they came with some reluctance to the truck, wanting to run more, run until they could run no more. But today it was I that needed to get back, and so they came, jumped up to the front seat, growled some and snapped at each other until Thor muscled Riika into the back and rode up front with me.
At home they were tired and hungry. Riika ate the cat’s food, Thor found his food dish and brought it to me, eyes pleading for chow. I fed them both. Riika beat Thor to the prime place on the couch. Then they both fell asleep, and I sat down at the keyboard and wrote it all down.
And all was well in our world.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800.