Anyhoo, there was this great Bernese Mountain puppy-- l’ll call him Fred-- who came every morning. Fred was only ten months old, but he was a massive puppy. For anyone unfamiliar with Bernese Mountain dogs, I’ll just say they’re gentle, sweet, affectionate, and hugemongous. But when puppies, they are ….… ummm… I don’t want to stereotype breeds, so I’ll just say Sam would find Bernese Mountain dogs a bit too bouncy and floppy when young. OK? (Thank you, Sam, wherever you are). I knew the dog’s owner—I’ll call her Loretta--as she visited the park often and not only adored her puppy, or her baby, but also pondered endlessly about him. She read books, knew about the breed, their natural proclivities, and had studied dog behavior. Although, well, I’ll just say Sam would find the dog in need of “a bit more intellectual stimulation.” (Thanks Sam ,again).
Anyhoo. One day Fred showed up with the nanny because Loretta had to go into work earlier than usual. The nanny spoke English but not very well and seemed nervous about the park. Loretta insisted the nanny bring Fred because it was important that he maintained his routine and socialize with the same friends every morning.
Fred jumped up on the nanny, on me, on other dogs, flew around the park and generally flopped about. He was a bit more anxious than usual, a bit floppier and more playful than usual.
I think the mistake the nanny--I’ll call her Maria--made was not staying long enough to wear Fred out. Or perhaps she should have walked him before coming to the park. I don’t know, but it happened right when she left. I had just finished pushing the last bulldog butt into my car. I closed the door and saw her walk Fred to the SUV.
I knew it was going to happen before it happened. Instead of holding the leash, letting the dog jump into the back then closing the hatch, she unclipped the leash then opened the hatch. Ole bouncy Fred saw his opening. No leash, you kidding me? You expect my floppy self to stand here patiently whilst you open the hatch. Me? Who did not want to leave the park? Me, who ran away barking when you called me? Me?
Off he went, down the sidewalk, onto the street, down the street, into a yard that lined a very busy street. Maria yelled and ran frantically after him. Fred paused –with that laughing pant all dogs do when teasing frantic humans—but when she ran to him, off he went into the street. I trotted to the street and put out my fists, thumbs down, signaling cars to slow, then I followed both of them. The chase became chaotic.
I noticed the dog was not really running off. He was running, stopping, looking back at Maria, running again. Basically, he thought this was a game. Maria didn’t get this, so she started to cry and ran after him waving her hands. Eventually, her hysteria made him run away for real. Off he went.
I shouted for Maria to freeze. She froze but continued to scream hysterically. In the distance, I could make out Fred looking back then trotting away behind a distant house. I ran fast and jogged around the other side of the house. When I walked into the back yard, there he was, bouncing on the edge of the property, ready to dive into the woods. He saw me, froze and gave me a look that said he was going to run away and find fun, but, Okay, he’d say bye to me first. We stood. I heard Maria in the distance.
This is where owning bulldogs comes in handy. Bulldogs love to wrestle and play chase. We are told not to wrestle or play chase with bulldogs because that teaches them bad habits and since bulldogs are quite strong, and dense, you don’t want them hurting anyone. Well, that’s wise advice. So, do as I say not as I do. Anyway, I had a little routine I’d go through that signaled the chase for my bulldogs. I’d lean way down, then run ten feet, look back, lean down again. They’d then get it-- game on! And off we’d all go, them chasing me. The key to this game was training. It took a while, but they learned to catch me but not tackle me. So, OK, I was not a perfect owner, but eventually things worked out.
Of course, I didn’t know if the Bernese Mountain dog understood not to tackle me if he caught me. I didn’t even know if my signal would work for any dog but my dog. And this is where having a zany personality comes in handy. When you don’t know what you’re doing, zaniness whispers into your brain-- go ahead, life is short, learn by doing.
I leaned way over, ran ten feet away then stopped, looked back, then ran five feet, stopped. That’s when I learned my "game on" signal for my bulldogs was actually a universal signal for all dogs. Fred got it! He got "game on"! He however did not get that tackling was banned. Fred ran at me, leaped upon me. I kept my balance, because, while I didn’t know much, I knew enough to bend my legs and prepare for the consequences of non-trained dog chase. I grabbed his hair, then his collar. And together we bounced about.
Maria and I walked Fred back. I guarded the hatch while she put him inside. And she thanked me profusely for saving her job.
That’s one story.
I also found two older labs lost on busy streets. Those are boring stories. One was accompanied by a terrier who would not stop barking. I stopped the car, opened the door, bent over and told the lab how handsome he was, what good boys he was. Flattery doesn’t work on terriers. The terrier kept barking. But labs love flattery. The lab wobbled to my open back door and I lifted him in (he was maybe 12 years old). No way was the terrier going to be left outside when the brother was in a warm car. So he stopped barking and jumped in with his brother.
The other found lab was very old, appeared blind and didn’t respond to flattery as well, which I later discovered was due to total loss of hearing. He was deaf and almost blind. Which was why I found him walking down the center of a major street. I let him smell me while I told him he was handsome (I had no idea he couldn’t hear) and he came with me to the car. He had his name and phone number on a tag, so I called his Mom and drove him home. She was so relieved!
And that is the end of story telling. My next post will be a video of a smarter person, who will discuss how to introduce yourself to a strange dog. Most wandering dogs you encounter have been lost long enough to have developed anxiety. They will not respond to flattery and will usually run away or bark. Some may pause and consider you. You may not want to approach him because who knows if he'll bite. Who knows when he has had shots. Who knows anything. But there is a way to introduce yourself and it's important to learn.
I like to write about people, animals, dogs. I enjoy ideas, good books about ideas, funny books about ideas, funny people who have ideas, advocates for people who don't have voices to express their ideas, and animals who have ideas we can't understand.