My shoulder hurts today, because yesterday A.J. hung himself.
Let’s start at the beginning. Earlier this week I took A.J. to the park to run off leash. As usual, he was having a fabulous time running wild and getting out a lot of energy. When it was time to go, I called him to me and…he ignored me. So I started walking away, and after a little while he came running after me. Then he went running right past me. I walked a little farther, and finally he came to me. I started to hook the leash on, but because it was very cold and I had gloves on, I dropped the leash. A.J. decided that was his chance to take off running again. At this point, as you can probably imagine, I was not very happy. Then my unhappiness quickly turned to fear.
I’ve tried to set clear boundaries for A.J. at the park. He’s run past those boundaries on several occasions, but overall he’s done fairly well. On this day, he went way out of bounds. The park is at the base of a dam. On one side of the park is an access road to the power plant, and on the other side of the road is a hill that leads down to the water where the dam drains into the river. I’ve always kept A.J. far away from this road.
On this day, as A.J. was running wildly away from me, he ran across the access road and down the hill. There are large red RESTRICTED and KEEP OUT signs all along the fence at the top of this hill. I screamed at A.J. “NO!! A.J. COME!!” He completely ignored me. I went running to the fence, half expecting to see my dog swirling in an eddy being sucked in at the base of the dam. Instead, when I reached the fence he was running along the hillside and working his way back up towards me.
When he got close enough, I reached through the fence, grabbed his collar, and dragged him through the fence and across the road. I hooked on his leash, practically dragged him back to the car, and went home. When we got home, A.J. received the worst punishment imaginable: banishment. I was still so angry I went upstairs and shut the door behind me, leaving A.J. on the other side. He was very sad about this.
Eventually I calmed down, but I went from angry to sad. Running at the park was so much fun for both of us. He loves and needs to run, and I enjoy watching him and giving him that freedom. I thought I’d found a safe place for this, but because he’s decided to ignore me it’s no longer safe there.
So yesterday I decided to start training – again. I took A.J. to the park, and we started out on leash. Then I switched to a 15 foot leash. We wandered around, trying to once again establish boundaries. I would periodically tell A.J. to Come, and he’d come running right to me. After about 20 minutes I let go of the leash. He wasn’t able to take off running because he was dragging a 15 foot leash behind him, but he was able to go where he wanted. I gave him about five minutes of this much freedom, then I said “A.J., Come.” He didn’t.
I went and picked up the end of the leash and started over. I called to him a few times, always rewarding him either with praise or praise and a drink of water. At one point he got his drink of water, saw a bird nearby, and I had just enough time to brace myself before he took off. I yelled “NO!” just before he reached the end of the leash. I held tight, and he came completely off his feet as he hit the end and hung himself. He quickly gathered himself up and we took a short break. After the break we walked around some more, did some more obedience exercises, then once again I dropped the leash. Another five minutes went by and I called: “Come!” Nothing. I went over and managed to grab the leash, and we went home.
I’m not sure how to make him understand that his freedom is earned through a certain amount of obedience. It’s very frustrating that he’s ruining a good thing for both of us. But I’ll keep trying. Maybe one day I’ll figure out a way to get through to that crazy little dog brain. In the meantime, I get to nurse my aching shoulders.