Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Brief Heart Attack

One of the biggest dangers with rescued dogs is their propensity to run away, especially in the early days of their adoption. They don't yet know that they have found a permanent home. They may not have bonded with their family. There are lots of reasons for a rescued dog to want to take off. I don't use the word "escape" because it connotes the idea that they're being held against their will. To an extent, that's true. But in a world dominated by humans, having a human guardian to protect you in that world is a huge positive.

Nicki bucks. There's no other way to describe it. Sometimes when we head out the door, she flips and twirls at the end of the leash. There's no mistaking this. She's not just excited to go out, she wants to throw off the restraint and have a run. The funny thing is, when I take her to an enclosed area so she can run off leash - she doesn't. Not even with my encouragement. She kind of walks around, sniffing, munching grass, but she couldn't be less interested in running.

The first time she bucked at the end of the leash, I knew immediately what was going on and it scared me. She's very agile. Despite her small size, she's also really strong. I knew this could be trouble. Sure enough, she threw her collar at one point. I was sure it was correctly fitted. I was wrong.

I got harnesses for Nicki. I always preferred walking on harness anyway. Using only a collar and leash seemed kind of harsh to me. Sizing is tricky. Nicki is too large for most small harnesses, even when fully extended. She's almost too small for medium harnesses when fully contracted! I reasoned that a fully contracted medium harness would work for her because it went completely around the body and around both front legs. I wasn't exactly wrong, but also wasn't exactly right.

A few days ago, we headed out to run some errands. I turned toward the garage. Nicki had a different idea. She wanted to go for a walk. She bucked - and threw off her harness! She headed straight for the street, the direction which begins our walks. My heart stopped. I immediately dropped everything, including the empty leash, and ran down the driveway after her yelling "Nicki! Come!" I felt helpless. Nicki has no recall. It's been a deep snow winter, and she had been constrained by nature as well as her tie-out. There wasn't much space in which to practice recalls. I figured we'd start working on that again this spring.

But we needed a recall right now. Luckily, Nicki must have sensed the fear in my voice, and did what she had done that time she threw off her collar. She veered up onto the grass of the front yard, dropped down, and let me catch up to her. When I got to her, I scooped her up in my arms, grabbed the leash on the way into the house, and went directly inside.

There, I saw the problem. The harness had pulled loose - more on one side than the other. If you know me, you know I'm too OCD to adjust straps unevenly. Not only does Nicki buck, she pulls on the leash. If she sees a squirrel, the force she exerts is amazing! And no, I haven't practiced loose leash walking as I should. Honestly, as long as she doesn't drag me down the street, I don't mind the pulling. I'm more focussed on giving her a good experience and a break from being indoors. But all that pulling must have loosened the harness straps, and out she popped! I tightened the straps, pushed the sliders up to hold the straps more firmly in place, and tried again.

In the course of all this, I had a bizarrely comforting thought. If Nicki ever does actually run away, she'll wind up going to someone for help. She loves people. Not all men, but women and kids are her friends, and she goes to them without hesitation. I doubt that she'd stay out on her own for long. Of course I'd hope the people she goes to would have her chip scanned and bring her home to me - but knowing how fond she is of human attention is a comforting thought. 

I'm going to be checking that harness every time we go out. I'm going to be developing a recall. I'm going to be working on not pulling on leash. I'm going to thanks my stars that Nicki is still here with me.

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