As an avid Bark reader who frequently hikes with my dog, I was so excited to see that this issue prominently featured exploring nature with your dog. I see the opportunity to share wild spaces with other hikers and wildlife as a privilege, not an innate right. This means following leash laws and not allowing my dog to be a nuisance to other hikers and wildlife on the trail.
I was horrified as I read Lee Harrington’s description of hiking with Wallace in “Getting the Dog You Need.” I am simply astounded that she thought it was okay to ignore leash rules on the Breakneck Ridge trail and let her dog run out of control, chasing animals and “barking wildly in the distance.” Then on top of that, she went out and adopted another high-energy dog and tried to do the exact same thing with her.
This is incredibly selfish, and a perfect example of how irresponsible dog owners ruin it for the rest of us when park officials decide to ban dogs completely from a trail or park. By publishing Harrington’s story, Bark is implicitly condoning such behavior, and I’m afraid that other readers will think it’s acceptable to let their dogs run wildly on trails. These places are supposed to be refuges for wild animals, and allowing a dog to chase those animals over long distances is certainly very stressful for them. They have no way of knowing that the dog is (one hopes) just in it for the fun. They’re running in terror from a potential predator. Additionally, other hikers are understandably leery of being approached by strange dogs with no owners in view.
Owner of high-energy dogs are responsible for finding safe and appropriate ways to exercising their dogs: jogging, agility, playing fetch and so forth. I too share a tiny apartment with a huge, high-energy dog but would never use that as an excuse to unleash him on unsuspecting hikers and wildlife on the trail.
Lee Harrington hit the nail on the head with the recent chapter of the “Chloe Chronicles.” I would say that not only do we get the dog we need, we get the dog who needs us. Our dog Khan is an excellent example of that principle.
When he first came into our home, he was a terrified, aggressive and very reactive dog with a serious potential to cause harm. Our behaviorist’s prognosis was not promising. Khan arrived about a year after we had gone through a terrible ordeal attempting to rehabilitate another dog, Clay, which unfortunately did not work out. After losing Clay, I had a lot of self-doubt, and questioned the training methods I used with him, which included positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning techniques. For Clay, they were ineffective, and I had the bite marks to prove it.
Khan needed much the same type of rehab work as Clay, but my wife and I were willing to try again. After a year of individual consults and reviews, Khan and I were finally able to enroll in a class from which we were not immediately asked to leave because of his disruptive behavior. Five months after that, I found two agility trainers who graciously allowed Khan to join their classes in spite of his fearful nature. These classes helped Khan tremendously, allowing him to develop his own self-confidence; they also gave me continued opportunities to practice counter-conditioning and other positive-reinforcement training methods to combat his anxiety and fear. It was daily work. Like the mailman, neither rain nor fog nor fatigue kept us from working each night in one location or another. Our goal was to pass the CGC test.
After two more years of continuous work, Khan got his CGC! Considering his problems, this was something I thought he would never achieve. However, we didn’t rest on our laurels. Along with agility, we discovered the joys of lure coursing; you’d think he was part Whippet, the way he pursues the lure.
About two years after coursing on weekends and two more years of agility training, a friend observed that Khan seemed especially receptive to seniors and might make a good therapy dog. One of my other dogs does therapy work, and based on Khan’s history, it was the one thing I would never have believed he would enjoy doing. However, after watching him interact with a variety of seniors, I was amazed at just how far he had come. Three months later, he was a working therapy dog.
One visit in particular stands out in my memory. We were at a facility that specializes in the care of those who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. One of the patients we visited was in bed, curled up and facing the wall. Normally, I don’t allow Khan to jump in bed with patients, but our usual means of being accessible to those with limited mobility were not effective. Khan very gently and gracefully hoisted himself onto the bed, inched over and lay down where the patient could pet him. I never would have believed that a frightened ball of fur could turn into an animal with such sensitivity to human need.
Khan restored my faith in my ability to help him overcome his fears, and found the family he needed to help him become the very special dog that he is. Here’s to our special dogs, who give us what we need and allow us to give them what they need.