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Bindi's Dog Blog

Outing with the Girls: Part 3

by Kelsey Weber

February 3rd, 2021

I love my dogs so much, but sometimes I don't really like them all that much. It's ok to say that. Give yourself permission to not like your dog(s) sometimes. Relationships take work. Sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days. Even moment to moment your feelings about the other participant in the relationship may change. And that's ok - it's actually normal. On this day in particular, after over an hour of being in complete bliss while walking my elated girls, Katia (3 yr old, Black Russian Terrier x Rottweiler) and Bindi (11 yr old, Border Collie x Pug x ?) around a completely empty, gorgeous, off-leash dog park, nestled in the natural forest of an Oregon State Park, my rose colored glasses promptly fell off when my dogs decided to lose their shit.

The dog owner in me was incredibly embarrassed and frustrated when Bindi and Katia tore off across the open field, sprinting with hackles up, into the distance (many cuss words instantly fell out of my mouth as I startled, dropped my phone, and tried to figure out what the hell just happened). The dog mom in me was instantly worried and a little panicked that my girls were going to get hurt or in trouble when they encountered whatever monster they were ambushing. The dog trainer in me took a breath, turned around to see that they were charging an unsuspecting lady who was casually walking through the open field, paused until there was a moment of quiet in between the hysterical barking, and called the dogs. 

The girls instantly sprinted back to me upon recall. Because of my magical dog trainer powers? Nope, because I would not take dogs to an off-leash dog park unless they were able to be called off of a distraction. However, just because I had the wherewithal to compose myself and rely on my training, and just because they promptly came back, does NOT mean I didn't have a surge of adrenaline flooding through my body. Once the girls were back, in a down stay, and watching the cheese in my hand, my brain started firing. Thoughts of "bad dogs", "WTF?", "that poor lady", "thank goodness they didn't bite her", "thank goodness the lady stopped", "what if there had been another dog?", "why the hell was she walking through the field", then "Kelsey, people are allowed to walk through the field, you sound like Bindi" - Oh...Bindi.

So, Bindi is a Border Collie mix. She is a bit of a senior these days and has minor vision and hearing issues. She can see things close up, but has a problem with things in the distance, and she can hear me around the house, but outside she doesn't hear my verbal cues but responds to a loud clap. As I was sitting on the ground with her, after this whole ordeal, I noticed that the lady walking through the park was between us and the setting sun. She was honestly pretty hard for me to see, more of an ambiguous blob, moving pretty quickly in an otherwise empty space. Let's reflect back on the Border Collie bit. For anyone with a herding dog, you get it. For the rest, herding dogs have an innate need to control the chaos. Border Collies are meant to notice every single sheep in a flock, as well as any potential disturbances in the environment, as well as the subtle shifts in the cues of their handler - all at the same time. If there is one element that is out of line, every piece of their being is compelled to address the situation and bring the environment back to a calm, controlled state. 

If I had been at the park alone with Bindi, I would have been scanning the environment with her. I would be watching for potential triggers and giving her cues so she knew how to handle said triggers. She is really great at sitting calmly by me while people pass by. She is very experienced watching dogs in the distance and redirecting to a nose target, or station behavior. She is such a "good girl"! However, it is not fair to expect a Border Collie to not react to a unidentifiable trigger that suddenly appears in the environment, when they are already over stimulated, and not getting any direction from their handler. Border Collies are not wired to thrive in these conditions and anyone who owns are herding dog needs to understand how to help THEM - that individual dog in front of you - be successful. 

And then there's Katia. Now, Katia also took off running and barking, but she was bouncy and loose and happily came back to chill next to me after (whereas Bindi was tense and hackled for some time, even after she came back). Katia was basically showing up as Bindi's backup, the muscle. Consider her breed mix (BRTxRot). The combination of guarding breeds that make up her genetic background tell her that she is here to protect Mom. Bindi noticed the "disturbance in the force" when the lady walked through the park, and Katia investigated to see if this person was a potential threat. Upon inspection, the lady was non-threatening, so Katia came back to Mom to relay the report of her findings (meanwhile, Bindi is wondering why such a lady would ever consider disturbing such a peaceful environment without written permission from the herding-dog-on-duty?!). 

Now, does this mean that everyone should go out and get a guard dog, since that sounds like a much easier dog to deal with than that crazy herding thing? Probably not. Imagine if Katia DID think that lady was threatening. What if the lady started kicking and screaming at the girls, or heaven forbid, was threatening to "Mom" - the one who always needs full protection from the 95 lb powerhouse of a dog that is Katia?! It could have been bad. "Thank goodness the lady stopped".

I tell this story, not to highlight my failings on my outing with the girls, but to shed some light on a few things. One, dogs are living, breathing, thinking, feeling creatures that should and will behave like dogs. Two, humans, even dog trainers, make mistakes all the time and that's ok - forgive yourself. Three, understand the dog in front of you. Think about the training this dog has had, the upbringing this dog has had, the decades of breed manipulation that created this dog's genetic code, the specific lineage and personality traits that were passed on to this dog, and the expectations set on this dog. Dogs are made up of their learning history AND their genetics - you cannot separate one from the other - but we can adjust our behavior accordingly. Four, don't stop learning. Learn about dog body language and behavior, learn about breed traits, learn how to successfully keep an animal in captivity, learn how to read your dog, learn how to read other dogs, and learn how to engage with your dog in a way that builds your relationship - so you can love them and like them.

Kelsey Weber

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