All of my dogs love people, but Fate loves them in her particularly intense and all out way, as she does everything. And people love her.
She just goes crazy around people when she first meets them, hears them or sees them, she shakes and quivers and jumps on them, she cannot seem to control herself, despite almost continuous efforts at training and control, from choke chains to alternative behaviors.
And when it comes to greeting people, I cannot completely control her.
Fate has lived through four or five Open Houses, and never had a problem, never completely lost control.
But she did last Saturday, as I reported. She ended up rushing out of the house, whining with excitement, dashing towards and into the busy road in front of the farm. Then she ran in frenzied circles trying to greet everyone who had arrived, ignoring me, running away from me, completely beyond my control or hers.
I responded in the time-honored and completely ineffectual way of men and frustrated dog owners, yelling, chasing after her, in a fright-inspired rage, no dog of mine had ever done that before, not ever.
I guess, to be honest, the sight of her rushing onto a state highway, crammed with speeding cars in foliage season, unhinged me.
I did just about everything wrong that morning, but finally collared Fate, dragged her into the farmhouse, swatted her on the butt and threw her into her crate, where she spend much of the morning. I could see she had no idea what I was communicating to her, no idea of what I wanted or what she might have done wrong. That's what happens when you scream at a dog, they have no idea what you are talking about or what they are supposed to do about it.
The next day, I went out early with her – we had both calmed down – and I did it right, starting with obedience and calming training (my specialty) to rebuild trust and communication and train her properly, calmly and clearly.
This didn't turn out to be difficult. Fate and I have a long and solid history of working together and it seemed Saturday was an episode that could have turned disastrous, but not reflect a permanent behavioral change.
Fate is a wonderfully trainable, eager-to-please dog, and when is a problem occurs, you can be sure it is my fault. She turns herself inside out to respond to commands, even hand signals. She walks in the woods with us for miles, and never runs off, even for deer or chipmunks.
I can't be certain about what triggered this, it might have been my anxiety about getting ready for the Open House, or Gus and his assertive playing, or something I didn't hear or see, like dogs out in cars on the road.
I won't ever know, and it doesn't really matter.
I was reminded of the fact that I must not be complacent or arrogant about my dogs and their training, and not ever take their responses for granted, especially when disruptive events like the Open House occur. We must have had 1,000 people coming through our farm on Saturday, and that would unhinge many a high-strung dog, especially an arousable border collie whose instincts are very strong and powerful.
Her arousal around people is intense, but not long-lasting. She always calms down.
In my therapy work with Red, the most responsive and grounded dog I have ever known, I still know to be vigilant and alert always, the people we deal with are frail and often confused and unpredictable, I always watch him closely, and he always watches me. Things can and do happen, and I have a zero-tolerance for mistakes in therapy work, that is the last thing vulnerable or dying people need.
Fate is very responsive, but much more intense and arousable than Red. Sometimes, she can be a wild thing. When Red sees a rabbit, he looks at and then ignores it. When Fate sees a rabbit, she gives chase.
In retrospect, it's foolish to open the door and let her loose when there are 100 people outside the door. It was just too much for her. If I'd thought about it, I would have anticipated that, but I didn't think about it, probably because my ego loves the idea that my dogs can operate freely and with trust, even in that kind of situation.
That was my mistake – hubris and ego. I did get the message.
On Sunday, after our training brush-up, she calmed quickly, and was fine, if sometimes a bit too affectionate. People love that and they love her. It's the very first encounter with a crowd – a lot of people especially, cars pulling up, people talking and waving – that I see I have to monitor closely, and adapt her to gradually. Sunday, I had her on a leash at first, and then put her inside the pasture. I can't just leave it to her to figure out the world.
All day Sunday, she never even looked at the road, and was always obedient and instantly responsive to me. She had adjusted.
As the readings and talks began Sunday afternoon, Fate circulated calmly and methodically around a wide circle of seated people, she was calm, affectionate and frequently just went to sit at the pasture gate near the sheep.
So it was a frightening and surprising experience, but also a learning experience, I feel wiser and humbled and more thoughtful about training, which I have always seen as a spiritual experience, and not really about obedience. When something like the Open House occurs, and Fate is a part of it, it is my job to protect her from her powerful instincts and impulses, not ignore them and hope for the best.
Fate is a strong and adaptable creature, the next morning, we had our usual good time out with the sheep, she rushed to the door, ran alongside of me, listened to me closely, even from hundreds of yards away. It is fun for me to work with dogs, yelling and screaming and ego only turns it into a misery, and that is the worst possible way to train a dog.
The fact that she obeys 99 per cent of the time in most circumstances doesn't mean there are not circumstances that might unsettle or unhinge her. I have to be ready for that, and not just trust to the fates. That could have cost Fate her life, and that would have been on me. She is a dog and dogs are simple souls, we are the complicated ones.
People are always complaining to me about their dogs, calling them willful or devious or jealous or rebellious. I always think the same thing. Dogs aren't devious or rebellious and they don't get jealous, those are human emotions we project onto them because we don't take responsibility for training them property.
Since I see it and say it all the time, it didn't take me long to recognize it, yet it was too long and could have cost Fate her life. I don't want to overdramatize it, but I don't want to minimize it either. When we mess up, the dogs always pay.
It won't happen again,and she is happy and up to her usual mad playing with Gus and running circles around sheep. She is a loving and happy dog, and is entitled to the best and most thoughtful kind of care.
Saturday, she didn't get it. I will remember it, but move on. It all turned out okay.