Easier to Train Than My Gerbil

I screwed up last night. I have an easy explanation for why I made the mistakes, but it doesn’t change that I made them.

After a large snow storm and several attempts to walk outside in the rain, Shiva chose to spend most of her time yesterday curled up on the couch. Though it is unlike her to spend that much time lazing around, I was more than happy to comply with her plans. A docile Shiva, is a happy me. Thus, when the skies had cleared and it was time for her evening walk, I imaged I would have an easy time of it. All day she had been so calm, that could only translate well to on-leash behaviour. At first, this theory proved true.

At first.

I strolled along down the sidewalk with Shiva happily wearing herself out by bounding over piles of snow. I let my mind wander, glad it wasn’t nearly as cold as I’d expected. We even passed a labrador puppy on the sidewalk and for the first time I can recall, Shiva  was content to let him walk by without accosting him. It was a great walk. A successful walk. A milestone of a walk. As one can imagine, I was feeling pretty good about things.

When we reached the baseball field – I made sure no one else was around first – I was feeling so good I figured I would let her off leash to do some fun training.  I don’t usually let her off in this particular field because there are a lot of smells around the fence line and she typically blows me off in favour of investigating them. But last night she was so calm and I was so over-confident, I didn’t even think she’d be interested in running. For some dumb reason, I actually imagined she’d stick close to my side.


Clearly her outward calm was just a mask for stifled energy. I gave the command for “wait”, a word she is very familiar with and to which she usually adheres, but before I could get out the “t”, she was tearing off for some disgusting smell she’d sensed earlier.

With a case of the zoomies as bad as this there is no point in chasing after her, no point in calling out, no point in doing anything really until she gets her head back together. At least, that is my excuse for why I just stood there, staring after her. Bored with the first scent, she tore off across the field in front of me, looking for the next fascinating piece of plastic.

Shiva is never so beautiful as she is when she runs. Though the field was well-lit, her figure was a dark silhouette against the bright snow. Long legs extending and contracting, she moves like a cheetah. At that point, instead of frustration, I was just awe-struck and wishing I’d brought my camera. Watching her, I kind of forgot where we were. I kind of forgot I was supposed to be an active participant in this adventure, not a passive observer. When Shiva headed straight for the only opening in the fence – an opening that leads to the sidewalk and road beyond – that is when I kind of clued back in.

Calling her name, I turned and ran in the opposite direction. This brought her back within the fence line at least, though I will admit it took at least thirty more seconds before I had her back on the leash.

This is when I made my second mistake. We were still alone and I still wanted to do some training. After a few minutes of on-leash circle work and a few recalls with front crosses, I idiotically thought she was focused enough to be off leash again. For a little while, it went well. We have been working on a new trick where she weaves in and out of my legs as I walk forward. It’s been going well, we’re just working on smoothing it out. I tossed her a treat and congratulated her on a good job before I reached down to clip the leash back on. I guess she decided she wasn’t ready to continue on our way. As I bent down, Shiva took off across the grass toward the batter’s box.

My fault. Totally my fault. Foolish human.

This time I didn’t give myself time to gape and I took off running as well. There are a few tall trees off to the side so I darted behind one of the thicker trunks. Hiding is often one of the only ways I can get her back. I hate to play off her fears but sometimes, it is the only tool I have. The only problem is, since she can’t see me, I can’t see her either.  I crouched behind the tree and called her name. The jingle of her collar is the only indication I have that she actually gives a damn where I am. This trick usually works. But usually wasn’t really working in my favour at the time. Fortunately, last night Shiva was concerned enough to come looking for me, or maybe just for her food supply, but either way I got her back.

No, I wasn’t foolish enough to let her off a third time.

Lesson learned: just because a Shiva looks calm, acts calm, projects calm, doesn’t mean she is calm. A Shiva is always looking for an opportunity to run. When you own a dog like her, always, always, always be on alert. While I do need to trust her, at times it is definitely possible to trust a little too much. Also? Maybe it is time to start pricing out one of those terrifying hamster wheels for dogs.

19 thoughts on “Easier to Train Than My Gerbil

  1. Yikes! I can’t tell you how tense I was as I read this post. This kind of thing has happened a couple of times with our resident wonderdog Chick and it is TERRIFYING. I’m glad you know her well enough to know what works (running away, for example), and it sounds like you reminded yourself of an important thing. I think we’re always learning our dogs’ limits, and they will never stop surprising us. The smart owners are able to pick up on the clues along the way. Bravo.

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  2. Beautiful photo. I can’t imagine a worse feeling than the moment of wondering if a dog will listen to a recall in any situation where it is dire. Yikes! Glad that you have Shiva back and a lesson learned under your belt. We’re always learning those lessons!


  3. So scary! I remember someone convincing me that it was totally fine to let Chai off leash at this little park downtown with no fencing because I just had to “trust her” and the entire time I was terrified. All I could see was her jetting off towards the street and being hit by a car. Fenced in dog parks are more my style.


  4. That was such a tense and scary story!!
    I’m so glad you got her back twice – at least she’s home safe with you again. That feeling when your dog just runs away and you are powerless to do anything because you cannot run faster than them, is a terrifying feeling, especially when your dog’s recall is terrible (like Eva’s is).
    With Eva, when she runs away, you will be sure that once she’s on the road, she is going to chase the cars. That is way worse.


  5. I’ve had a very similar experience on a baseball diamond with Shadow a couple of years ago.

    We know how much joy it will give our dogs to play off leash and we hope and want them to be able to handle it.

    That’s why it’s so great to find out about huge, off-leash, parks (until you think about the crazy people, the stir-crazy dogs, and other things that can go wrong).

    In truth, Shiva did handle this and so did you. She could have taken off and been 3 counties away before you turned around. And keeping your wits about you to play hide-and-seek was great!


  6. Actually, you both did very well. Of course, Shiv had tons of energy piled up after napping most of the day. She did come back in range and to you after her runabout when you called and went the other way – very smart. Letting her off a second time, well, yeah, big mistake but hey, we all make them and thank God, you are both ok. I am very proud of Shiv in her response to you. I have often watched a Coonhound leave home at speed, nothing I can do but pray….knowing, even though he is a Coonie with a nose for a brain, he will come home unless something dire prevents him – and he does….never easy and never intentional. You have made giant strides. @Ashley – my thoughts exactly.


  7. Wowee! I bet Shiva had the bestest time running! I just luv being able to sniff stuff when it snows cuz the wetness brings out all the smells. But then my mom gets all nervous-like – well, kind of like you do. And then I have to go back on the leash. I don’t know WHAT you humans are so worried about. You act like we’re gonna run off and leave you to find your way home all by yourself or something. Pfsh!

    Wiggles & Wags,


  8. Oh yeah! Been there! And so freaking mad at myself for being so freaking stoooooopid!

    I’m sure Shiva enjoyed herself, though! 🙂

    Oh yes, I use the disappearing act on Stumpy, too. Just the other day, as a matter of fact. Only I took off in my truck (we live in the middle of nowhere so there is no fear of other vehicles) Man-oh-man, I have never seen her run so fast. No camera, either 😦


  9. Whenever I let Stella off the leash at the ball field I’m always afraid she’ll bust out the gate and head for the soccer players. Usually there are about thirty guys playing and she would be all over that action. So glad your tricks worked (I wasn’t a bit worried the second time 🙂 It’s amazing how much energy builds up just over the course of one day. I think the presence of snow actually doubles the crazy, don’t you?


  10. That was a little scary! Though I understand the awe of just watching your dog run and be free. Once Zappa and Fiona got out at the same time, It was the most awesome thing watching them running side by side, except that they were running down the road away from the house! Glad everything ended well and you are both safe and sound.

    Thank you for your comments on my blog about walking the dogs. You are right, we don’t change anything until it hurts enough, and for some reason it doesn’t hurt enough yet, but it is getting there.


  11. You had us sitting on the edge of our seaters.
    Glad to hear that all turned out well. Too bad you don’t have a safe place to let her run and run. I have good recall so mom lets me off leash a lot. Shiva, listen up girl, Good recall equals more freedoms!


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