Lions, and Skunks, and Cows! Oh My!

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Not long ago I encountered an unusual, yet very good, reason to teach your dog to come when called happily and as fast as lightening, no matter the distraction. As dog lovers, we already know that a rock-solid, really reliable recall is not only extremely convenient, but could also save your dog’s life. However, when I got a frantic call from my next door neighbor one day the importance of training for safety really sunk in for me on a whole new level.

It was 10:30 in the morning and my neighbor called to let me know that there was a mountain lion in her back yard and that her gardener had come across it and accidentally scared it into heading in my direction – possibly into my back yard – where my dogs were hanging out and lounging in the sun.

Now, two of my three dogs are very big, and most likely a mountain lion wouldn’t approach them or interact with them unless cornered. However, I also have little Hugo, who is very independent and was most likely rooting around in the far corner of the garden on his own. Not only that, but he really looks like a meaty piglet with a round, and I imagine to a mountain lion, succulent rump. I have two cats that I thought might be at risk as well.

I thanked my neighbor for calling and rushed to the doorway to call everybody inside. “Boys come!” That’s my group recall, we’ve practiced it hundreds of times, and when I use it I am just about guaranteed to get all three dogs racing towards me because group recall race is one of their favorite games. Often I’ll get bonus cat too, because Uggs hates to be left out of any training opportunity.

I could see the dogs making their way to the house and so called the kitties with their special recall in order to get my other cat Mayhem’s attention. She doesn’t responds to dog-calls. But thankfully her catcall works like a charm and within less than 20 seconds from getting my neighbor’s warning I had all five animals safely inside.

At that point I marveled at the circumstances because I live in a relatively urban environment and we don’t usually have to worry about large, predatory wildlife on my street. I would've loved to have seen the big cat (from a safe-distance of course). On the one hand I thought it was a pretty cool event, on the other I thought it was terrifying. Now I’d have to make sure Hugo never goes out unattended! Heck he was already practically on lockdown after two toxic mushroom eating incidents in less than six months, and this just made my home territory seem more treacherous than ever.

The incident got me thinking about all of the times that training had gotten me and my dogs out of a jam. Hugo and I have been working diligently on his “leave it” and “drop it” to help keep him from munching more mushrooms, and before that we perfected his boundary training at doorways, driveways, etc. because once as a wild and free adolescent he ran out of the house, down the driveway, and into the street, running down it with glee and exuberance with me trailing him like a fool until I remembered to use his emergency recall. It worked. As soon as I called him back using his super-fun-emergency recall word he stopped on a dime and came charging back to me as fast as his stumpy little legs would carry him! (Pretty fast actually.)

Then there was the time that Dune and I were hiking and quite unexpectedly we came across a herd of cows and their calves. Or rather, Dune came across them ahead of me, as they were around the corner of a hill and some trees and I couldn’t see them at all. But I did see Dune sit and look back at me as I’d trained him to do when another dog was approaching. I ambled up to meet him, praising him for being such a good boy, fully expecting to see another hiker and a dog or two, and instead was met head-on by the protective glare of an extremely large mama cow and her beautiful baby. Dune had never seen a cow before and I was pleased to learn that he’d managed to generalize his polite-trail-manners-auto-sit to another species.

I could go on and on about the how the practical application of basic training saved the day, like the time there was a snake in the path, or the time an intruder was in the house… but suffice it to say that a solid sit-stay, a good bark on cue, and a well-practiced recall are well worth the training effort any day. So get out there and perfect the basics with your dog because you never know when there might be a tiger around the corner or a skunk in your garden!

What about you? What is your story where training saved the day?

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