"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
This is not a quote about hubris, since cats just keep getting away with it...
As, it turns out, do I. So far... I find it hard to evaluate my actions and choices in regards to Monster's freedom, what is the right choice after all? Since I do keep "getting away with it", perhaps I'm overvaluating the risk? Or is it just chance, setting me up for a big fall?
Last night Mom wanted to go berry picking again. Fortunately(?) as I arrived at their place with Monster a guest on a bike (Monster: "RRRRAAAAAAARRRGH! An ENEMY!") arrived at the same time, and Mom got a good demonstration of how I actually am not "constantly exaggerating" Monster's problems. To the point of asking me if I perhaps shouldn't leave him at home while we went to the forest... I patiently (well...) explained to her that absolutely nothing had changed from yesterday, or any other day when she blithely ignores my concerns on risk management with regards to Monster and thinks he should basically be allowed to run around free. And acts on it, if I don't keep a careful eye on her! Since he was no more dangerous after her seeing him react to the biker (as opposed to hearing me tell her about him reacting to something), her concerns should be no greater than before. Monster hadn't changed at all. With this he came along, and Dory too. This time I was however more successful in getting Mom to move further from the road (also helped by us going to a different spot, where the terrain was easier for her to navigate), which was a relief for me. The evening passed without incident - a couple of times Monster perked up toward the road and started to move toward it with interest, but he turned away immediately when I called him. Dory was very much getting on my bad side however, since she kept trying to lure him away! Following a path through the forest for a couple of minutes would lead to a couple of houses with dogs outside, and Dory quickly ran off to visit them (Mom: "... She'll come back eventually." Me: "!"). She did indeed come back (dogs howling and barking in the distance, to Monster's fascination), but only to fetch Monster. She ran around him in invitation and got him to follow her down the path, but! He wouldn't go more than 70-80 meters or so (after stopping them a couple of times I allowed it to see what would happen - hubris again, right?), when he reached the "too far" line - as decided by him - he sat promptly down and refused to take another step no matter what Dory did. When she eventually ran off without him again he started barking in frustration and running around, but he would not follow her! How about that...?
|That's cause I'm a Good Boy.|
Today, on our daily walk down to my parents' house, we encountered yet another chance for me to make the wrong, risky choice. Of course I took it! As we came around a bend in the road we spotted a deer in a field (150-200 meters away). Monster was off leash and noticed the deer a little after me, but I chose to not distract and leash him even though I had the option (probably). As the deer noticed us, and we kept moving towards it, it turned and walked into the forest behind the field. Monster, by then perhaps 20-30 meters ahead of me, picked up speed, his body tense, head high, tail rigid and upright. I let him go. Could I have called him back at this point? I think so now, and I thought so then. But I wanted a greater distraction, I wanted a test... Monster was running ahead, toward where he'd seen the deer disappear, and I could see the instant he crossed the scent trail - if he'd been running before he started racing now. I still let him go. He followed the trail into the woods, running flat out and completely fixated on the hunt, and when I couldn't see him any more I called out once, turned and walked away...
|Did you think this through?|
... And was instantly rewarded with an almighty crash behind me, as Monster immediately took the most direct route toward the sound of my voice (I'm guessing), and rather than retracing his steps through easier terrain just barged through bushes and small trees instead. He came literally thundering up behind me, covered in branches and leaves! Happy with this success I immediately proceeded to test him further (of course! why not end in defeat?), and turned around again and set off on a course where we'd cross the deer's trail quite close to where we'd seen it disappear. Monster still off leash. As we came to the spot Monster again became agitated, sniffing around, craning his head toward the forest edge, stepping in place and looking toward me. I didn't interact with him at all, just kept walking past. And Monster just dropped it, followed me and was as relaxed and responsive as before the whole thing. That's something, right?
(To be clear: the deer walked away quite calmly - for a deer - and had a good head start. If it had run off, if I had thought there was any risk of Monster getting very close, if it had set off across open terrain instead of into the forest, or if in some other way I had judged there was a risk of severely stressing the animal, I would have (attempted to?) stopped Monster from engaging. I do not think the world is around to serve our/my needs, I do not think I can make others "pay" for Monster's "gain". I made two judgments, the first that the deer was in no risk from Monster's pursuit, and the second that I could stop Monster from prolonging the pursuit beyond the point where I felt I had a good overview of the situation. You may well judge me as having put the deer at risk anyway, and I'll have to live with that, but I did believe at the time that I had the situation under control. I do believe in retrospect that I did not cause any harm to the deer beyond the initial alarm on seeing us approach - and that's unavoidable whether leashed or not.)
So. Did I do the right thing? Was it a horrible mistake? The result would (perhaps?) indicate I evaluated the situation correctly... I thought I could recall Monster from a hunt situation, and I succeeded. I thought even at a distance of a couple of hundred meters, out of sight, and more or less wholly engrossed in a strong behavior (tracking/hunting/pursuing), Monster would respond to my recall. Well, he did. I thought that even when seriously revved up by the experience, rather than it drawing him back to it again he would let it go when I showed no interest to engage in it with him. He did. So I walked away with a confirmation of my expectations. But the question I'm stuck with is whether or not that's actually a good thing?
Because adding to my confidence levels, both in my control over Monster and in my ability to judge my control over Monster, could after all lead to disaster down the line, right? There is a line between training and real world we all have to cross eventually, in most of our training. There is only so much "controlled environment exercise" you can do successfully, before it becomes time to (gradually) move it out of that environment. (Unless you're content with staying there, but few of us are I think.) I have zero ambition to walk Monster off leash in for example a city environment, but I do want to be able to let him off the leash in less stressful surroundings. In order to get there, I have to let go of the leash. But when? Where? How? I don't want Monster to be a threat to others. I don't want him to even frighten others (within reason; people getting upset at the mere sight of a calm, leashed dog some distance away can just learn to deal with their own problems, frankly). I think I have sufficient control over him off leash in order to be moving carefully across that line into the real world (while still staying in a very unchallenging environment), but how do you know? Well, I know the answer to that: you don't. You can only try to be objective and responsible, and keep evaluating as you go. Right? But for something like off leash control, the 80% rule doesn't really apply I think. You need to be much closer to 100%. But you never actually reach 100% though! You can never know with absolute certainty how a situation will develop or how your dog will respond, the best you can do is "fairly sure". (No matter what some people will tell you! No one can guarantee their dog's absolute obedience in any situation, it's simply not possible. And quite frankly, anyone who makes that sort of claim is someone I'd steer quite clear of, as it to me reeks of poor judgment and lack of responsibility.) And for a lot of people, even less than that is quite acceptable (at least to them); they have dogs they don't need to control all that closely, as they're perhaps small, cute, with zero interest in other people or animals... Monster is interested. And while I think he's about the most adorable creature who ever lived, not everyone shares that view of him. He's certainly not small. I need to have him under control. But at which point is he under sufficient control?
|Just how much harder do you want me to work, really?|
If I thought he was actually dangerous, he'd be permanently leashed. But I don't. If I thought he'd run off from me to confront someone we came across, he'd be leashed (perhaps permanently, but I'd at least try to work on that). But I don't. If I thought he'd go after the wildlife, he'd be leashed. But I don't. My assumptions in these things have been tested (1 by meeting a man on a close path, Monster barked at him but returned to me when called; 2 by walking past people picking berries in the woods by the road before I realized they were there; 3 by getting called off the hunt today), but that's not really proof of anything more than success in those specific situations. Sure, it's also good indications of reliability of behavior, but it's not proof. Proof can not be had. So. What to do? Do I (try to) rein myself in, or do I trust myself more? Because it's not like I'm impartial after all. No matter how hard I try to objectively evaluate myself, Monster, results, etc, I am also always driven by ambition. I want a specific result. How much am I influenced by that in my evaluations?
|Don't you trust me?|
Teach, you need to teleport up here and help us out! An objective view is sorely needed. I'm all alone up here... ("Try a shock collar!" I was told today. And then they stop listening when I patiently(?) try to explain why that's a terrible idea.)
|What's that now? "Shock collar"? Fine with me - I'm the one holding the remote and they're the ones wearing the collar, right?|
I would like to try some setups, I think... I would like to encounter people (with and without dogs) at various distances, moving and standing still, in our path and off to the side... But there is no one here to ask - no one who wouldn't use aggression and intimidation on Monster if he should approach them. And that's not a variation of setup I feel ready for. Not because I'm sure it would go badly - I'd estimate perhaps 80% certainty that I'd still be able to call him away - but because it's a somewhat higher risk, and most of all because it's not the kind of experience which will aid Monster's progress...
|Nah, what could possibly go wrong?! I'm a very stable dude! No bad experiences are going to influence me...|
And since quoting Pratchett is a lot like that proverbial popcorn eating, here are a couple more I couldn't help myself from cramming in here...
A difference I often observe in traditional vs. positive dog trainers:
"The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to those who think they’ve found it."
And something for all of us to keep in mind:
"Sooner or later we're all someone's dog"
I had to put them last so I could stop myself from just writing more and more by quickly pressing "publ