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Frequent walks and waving arms – the difference between life and death

Today I had one of the most harrowing experiences of my life.

Far scarier than even my car accident that required months and months of physical therapy, chiropractic care, and dance classes for me to recover from. In case you haven’t guessed it already:

I witnessed my dog come within inches of being crushed under a car.

So now you may be wondering, “Kate is a professional dog trainer. Why would her dog run into the street? That dog should be trained!”

But here is the truth: dogs are living, feeling creatures, not robots, and no matter how well you train them, there is always the chance they won’t listen. And the thing is, she DID listen. She DID come when I called her, she just didn’t come in a straight line.

To figure out why this happened, let’s time travel to about two weeks ago:

I came down with a terrible stomach virus and I barely got off of the couch for 5 days, short of dragging myself to an adoption event for a few hours where I was demonstrating training. I had committed to the event 2 months in advance and I really couldn’t miss it. I survived, but I came home exhausted, far too tired to walk her at the fast pace she requires. This resulted in a total of 5 days with no walks.

At the time, I was also watching a friend’s dog while they were out of town because their family and friends that had originally agreed to watch him both cancelled last minute, and the dog cannot be boarded at a facility due to his separation anxiety. Junie seemed to happily accept his presence, but any change in a dog’s normal schedule can be stressful, even if it is “good” stress. Then this weekend was way too hot by the time I had time in my schedule to walk them because my appointments with my clients ran longer than expected.

So let’s take a tally: five days of no walks, five days with only one walk per day, two days of no walks. 

Despite her love of naps and cuddling (she honestly gets more excited to take naps on the couch with me than she does to take walks with me – I have proof of this on video!), Junie is a very energetic four year old Corgi/Dachshund. While she doesn’t become destructive when she doesn’t get properly exercised, she does become an escape artist (climbing over, digging under, or squeezing through fences), and her response time to trained cues slows down because she has far too much pent up energy to pay full attention.

Knowing that she is prone to the “zoomies” (running in frantic, non-stop circles) when she hasn’t been properly exercised, I didn’t dare take her to the park to run around today. I knew full-well that it would take at least a week of regular walks in order to get her back under control off-leash, so we skipped the park and took the longer path for our walk instead. As we were walking, Junie caught sight of a crow (one of her favorite things to chase – she has pretty high prey drive, but it is normally under control). Ordinarily, we would practice the “Look-a-That!” game, she would stop fixating on the crow, and then we would continue calmly on our walk. Once I even dropped the leash (accidentally) when she was staring at a crow and she still dutifully dropped into a Down Stay, just like I have trained her to do when the leash falls.

Fast-forward back to today.

Not only was she not properly exercised in the first place, but there were FIVE crows, and three of them decided to fly all at once. When she saw that, Junie ripped the leash out of my hand and took off across the little field that we were walking past. I called her and she immediately abandoned the crows to run back towards me. Good girl, right? The trouble is that when she gets the aforementioned “zoomies,” she doesn’t run straight – she runs in circles. Being that I was still on the sidewalk with my sister’s dog Frankie, her circle around me also encompassed the street.

There is usually very little traffic (if any) on that street, but just as I saw that Junie was not running straight and she was not stopping, I also saw two cars coming down the road. I screamed and waved frantically, and the first car halted JUST as she reached its front bumper. An inch or two more and Junie would have been knocked over and/or crushed.

I yelled at Frankie to Stay (and he did) as I ran into the street and scooped her up, trying to manage a “Thank you! Oh my God, thank you!” to the driver as I burst into tears and crumpled on the sidewalk next to Frankie. How I managed to not go into a full-blown panic attack is beyond me.

The driver pulled over, made sure we were all okay, and talked to me about how cute and sweet my dogs were until I had calmed down, before he continued on what I am assuming was his commute to work. Really nice guy, and thank DOG he was an attentive driver (his windows were up and he might not have heard me).

It wasn’t until a block later that I noticed the little smears of blood on my jacket from when I had held Junie. Even though my initial inspection had shown no injuries and she wasn’t limping at all, Junie had scraped the upper paw pads next to her dewclaws (aka “dog thumbs”) on both of her feet. I tried carrying her for a block, but she was not happy about it and her injured pads don’t touch the ground when she walks (which illustrates how she must have really skidded herself to a halt), so I let her walk the remaining 2/3 of a mile home. Clearly she needed the exercise…

Thankfully, Junie has already been trained to sit still while I wash her feet (we do that after every walk), and to sit still while I bandage her up with rolls of gauze (she had a lick granuloma that needed to be bandaged twice daily for 2 weeks), and she has even been trained to happily accept wearing a cone so that she doesn’t chew on said bandage (I can hold it out and say “Cone!” and she will run and stick her head through it). That made her home care a breeze.

The morals of the story:

1) Never underestimate the importance of regular exercise. I have had far too many clients tell me “My dog never listens to me even though I train him,” but they admit that their dog only gets walked once or twice a week, or worse, his only exercise is going to the dog park once a week. Therein lies the problem, my friend. And I don’t care how big your yard is, he needs to be walked and see the rest of the world on a daily basis. It’s not just about the physical exercise, it’s also about the structure of the walk and the mental stimulation.

2) No matter how well-trained your dog is, some thing some day could lead your dog to not listen to you (or in my case, “listen,” but in a less-than-optimal way). It only takes a taunting squirrel, a car backfiring, an aggressive off-leash dog, or a coyote to startle a dog. Please do not walk your dog off-leash if there is any chance that your dog could come into contact with any form or motorized vehicle or wildlife. Same rule applies to retractable leashes.

3) In case you haven’t heard this before, DO NOT CHASE YOUR DOG! He will only run faster. Try running in the opposite direction to get him to chase you if there is not imminent danger that you need to stop. (See my post Revamp Your Recall for more DOs and DON’Ts of Come When Called).

4) If your dog is running into the street and is not responding to your cues, DON’T FREEZE! Wave your arms and jump up and down. The driver probably can’t see your dog, but they will likely stop when they see all the commotion.

5) Train your dog to calmly accept handling and to sit still when you clean him, bandage him, etc., before your dog is ever injured. You do not want his first experience with being touched or bandaged to be associated with fear and/or pain.

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