Witty blog titles sometimes elude me. What will draw people to read my thoughts? Should I call this, The Blue-Eyed Devil Dog or Why Dog Trainer’s Drink or Catcher, The Enigma?
I’ve decided that every once and awhile I need to write about my ongoing attempts to figure out my four-year old Border Collie, Catcher. He is a canine enigma, sweet loveable, smart, innocent, as well as mischievous and wily. Remember the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote? That describes Catcher perfectly. He’s part Wile E. Coyote, with elaborate but not always successful plans, and part Fox. He is the poster child for why I can say with authority that dog training is not an exact science. A doesn’t always equal B or even Z. But every once and awhile I discover a piece of the puzzle that helps me figure out my blue-eyed, brown-eyed dog.
With the addition of a new dog, recall training is high on my list of importance. The girls, Tommie and Razz, want to be with me. Though they may be reluctant to return back to the house after an hour of running and playing, they do come back to me when called. Their obedience is rewarded, unless my pockets are empty of treats that they may have already scavenged. But Catcher holds back, a speck of black and white fur along the back fence line. Why, I ask myself over and over again?
I have been experimenting lately and may have found a partial answer. When he was young he lived with two dominant male Border Collies. Catcher is a soft, sweet dog. Though I never saw any outright aggression directed at Catcher, dogs give subtle signals that warn submissive dogs to get back, using a curled lip or a piercing stare. Over time, I believe Catcher learned not to come back to the house “in a pack”. He learned to hold back. Over time this became a learned behavior way past the time the two dominant dogs had passed on. No amount of pleading from me would make him return with the group of dogs that I have now. I became frustrated with his not coming when called. He sensed my frustration. It became a perfect storm of missed signals between a very smart dog and a mere human.
One day I brought the three young dogs inside and then went back to the field to deal with what I perceived was Catcher’s obstinance. With just the two of us around he came to me. He was a bit hesitant but I made sure to have enticing goodies for him. Now over the past week he has been meeting me at the back door, all the way from the back fence. He’s rewarded with treats, as are all the dogs when they come to me in the field for no reason, just for simply checking in with me. Within a short period of time, miracles of miracles, he is running to greet me at the gate. He is rewarded sometimes with small kibble and sometimes his beloved string cheese. This particular Catcher enigma (there are more) is not one hundred percent fixed yet but the fact that we are communicating is making both of us happy, a win-win situation.
Unfortunately, Catcher also let me know something else one evening. He was in pain. He has been licking his foot excessively. For the first time he tried to bite me as I checked him, even though my touch was light. Today he seems better, which is good because it is my vet’s day off. I suspect he twisted his foot running in the back forty.
And so it goes with animals. It’s always something. But at least Catcher and I are on speaking terms, without words as dogs and their people have communicated for eons.