Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Sedative for Dogs

Just a day at the beach!
Within a few days after adopting Shauna at the county's Animal Care Center, I knew that this was going to be a challenge. She was like no other dog I had ever had.

The first challenge was leash training. Being a Siberian mix, she was born to pull. And so she did! Of course, all dogs pull until they are leash-trained. But even when I was able to walk her at my side, with the leather leash doubled up to make it short enough to keep her at my pace, it was obvious that a walk, no matter how brisk or how long, didn't begin to satisfy her urge to run. So I thought of my mountain bike, left unused for a long period of time. What would happen if I rode my bike with Shauna on a shortened leash at my side? I decided to give it a try, at first in a parking lot at slow speed. If I were killed, at least I wouldn't be left in the street!

I tentatively hooked her up and settled into the saddle. Riding slowly, we made a loop around the parking lot, several times. There seemed to be no problems. Shauna made the turns precisely, as if we were a unit. She was thinking, "Now this is more like it! Can't we go a little faster though?" Experimental stage over. Time for a road test.

The first couple of blocks were always harrowing. She didn't run, she flew! At top speed on a twenty-one speed bike. I could barely keep up, and I was in fact slowly losing ground until, after that two-block burst, she settled into an easy lope, much like a horse. We went on and on. She only tried to cut in front of me once, and as soon as the front wheel touched her, she corrected herself and never again tried it.

It was an exhilarating feeling for both of us. She was happy, with a relaxed face and jaw, the wind in her face and her nose pulling in the scent of what lay ahead, and with her bushy tail streaming out behind her. "A little more! I'm just getting started!"

Of course, with warm weather coming on, we had to wait until sundown to go out. No danger in  forgetting-- Shauna was always there to remind me: "Hey, it's starting to get dark! The air is cooling! Can't you hurry and finish whatever it is you're doing?" Eager anticipation. Sparkling eyes. Dancing feet. The message was clear. And so we went out every evening for the next eight years (and counting).

We would run on the streets until we left the industrial area of my business (where there was no traffic at night) and entered the busy commercial district. Then we took to the sidewalks. Shauna ran like a dog on a mission. She didn't glance from side to side, or pay any attention to pedestrians (who cautiously gave way when they saw a wolf-like canine rocketing toward them). She looked straight ahead, and never wavered. At street crossings, she waited patiently for the change of light, ignoring the crowd of people also waiting there. She even came to know when it was time to go, when the traffic had stopped, although, when reminded, she waited for me to move before she stepped into the crosswalk.

From there, we ran to the Santa Ana River, which begins many miles inland, in another county, and runs all the way to the Pacific. There is a paved bike trail curving along the river, and we ran north on the trail, often covering ten to twenty miles. By this time, she would settle into a ground-eating fast trot, her legs a blur, still looking straight ahead. She never stopped unless it was my idea, to take a drink of water, look at the wild ducks on the river, and roll in the grass (the dog; not me).

Shauna had an uncanny ability to know which way I was going to turn when running on a street or sidewalk. Still, I thought it best that she should know the relevant commands, and she understood at once that "haw" meant left, "gee" meant right, and "straight ahead" meant, well, straight ahead. I had remembered the commands from my boyhood, when a man with a team of mules came every spring to break the soil for our large vegetable garden, sometimes allowing me to plow a row or two myself. But usually, I didn't feel the need to tell Shauna which way to turn. Only once did she, or rather, we, make a mistake, and it was my fault. A row of trees lined one particular sidewalk, and sometimes we would pass them on the left, other times on the right. One day, for some reason, I just couldn't decide. My brain just locked up. At the last possible microsecond, I veered right. Shauna veered left. But before the leash wrapped around the tree, I dropped it while on the move. We both stopped after passing the first of the trees, I picked up the leash, and we went on our way.

One harmless accident that could have been serious: Shauna had a bad habit of playfully grabbing the leash in her jaws and shaking it as we ran at full tilt. I had read about using an aluminum can with pebbles or hardware in it, to toss at a dog's feet; the unexpected sound startles the dog, and acts as a correction for unwanted behavior. Or so the theory goes. So I decided to give it a try while riding. We were just getting started, and she did her thing with the leash, as a prelude to serious running; I did my thing with the can. Immediately, Shauna came to a full stop, and I flew head first over the handlebars. And, as always, I was not wearing a helmet. All was well, though. I instinctively did a tuck and roll, somersaulting over the handlebars and hitting the pavement, rolling. Not a scratch. Not even any road dirt on my shirt. Lucky. The can went into the recycle bin. And Shauna thought, "He won't do that again!" (She was right.)

Running was a sedative for this dog. Back at home base, she would settle into a sound sleep. Content at last. And so we had found the perfect dog sedative for her.
"This is deep enough. I''m not a lab!"

Our place in Oregon. 

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