Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dog Management

In the last 5 years I have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on various pieces of equipment to manage our dog, Luna.  But there is no managing Luna.  There is no controlling Luna.  Luna is a Wild Thing and no amount of neon, reflective vests, 18 level, half-mile range, zappy collars, triple-stitched leashes, rugged and waterproofed or light-up tracking devices, nor wireless fences with 15 levels of shock can save her from herself. I am simply going to have to be prepared for the day when she either gets:

a. shot by an angry homeowner who doesn't like her catching and disemboweling rabbits in their yard (or possibly their small dog, which would be our worst case scenario,)
b. hit by a car while chasing deer (although she's already been there, done that, and escaped from an encounter with an SUV with $500 in x-rays and nothing to show for it.)
c. us in trouble with the law for any of her many shenanigans that piss off other people.
d. orphaned because my repeated and almost constant state of worry for her will land me in a mental hospital.

And lest anyone think that we have never attempted training or behavior modification prior to resorting to tools, we DID try.  I assure you.  We worked with a local woman who is the equivalent of the dog whisperer.  After declaring she would never give up, she finally gave up.  She consulted another dog behaviorist whose sole comment was, "I think that dog will never do anything FOR you, only maybe WITH you."  Luna even spent some time at the kennel that the trainer owns and operates.  One day, Luna scaled their 10 foot, chain-link fence that was specifically designed to discourage dog feet.  Luckily, the other side of the fence was another kennel where she wanted to play with some other puppies. 

But let's review the equipment, shall we?  Because I feel strongly that any company that thinks they have a rugged, dog-proof product should really borrow Luna to put it to the test.  They can just pay us in products... multiples of everything.  And we will help them out by inventing one device that can track in real time, send up emergency flares, drop an anchor, light up with a blinding spotlight, shock the hell out of her so she can't even THINK about hunting, and keep her inside the confines of our property, especially after she has had the almost daily luxury of an hour long walk/run/romp out in the woods and fields!

They think their vests are well made?  Let her run through brambles, sail over and slither under fallen trees, muck through the swamp, roll in the tall grass, whip through corn fields at top speed, dig furiously 3 feet down, and shake 5 woodchucks to death in one month and THEN see how well that vest holds up!  Her current vest, by the way, used to have a mesh pocket on one side, a poop-bag dispensing pocket on the other, another zippered pocket, and some nice, silver, reflective strips stitched on.  It was very jaunty looking in neon orange.  It is still neon orange, and the buckle and velcro have held together miraculously.  I can't say that the pockets or zippers still exist, and the remaining reflective strips are dangling by threads.  The edges used to be reinforced with thick, nylon but the front section came home one day looking like it went down a garbage disposal, so my multi-talented husband stitched on a patch of fabric to keep it from unraveling further.  Her last vest didn't make it a month before the color faded, the buckle broke, and the reflective strips disappeared.

She used to have a fabulous, bright, red light on her collar at night.  It advertised as being able to withstand an army tank driving over it.  We have replaced it 3 times before giving up because it eventually gets loose and the cover comes off and the battery falls out.  I am telling you; these designers must have the world's most passive dogs ever, even if they DO have an army tank at home!

I have honestly lost track of the number of collars Luna has been through.  I think her neck is longer than it used to be as a result.  There was the underground fence collar, but that silly little thing didn't faze her a bit.  She just strolled right over the line without a flinch.  There is the wireless fence collar with 15 levels of shock available, designed to set off an alarm in the house when she crossed the border.  That collar was meant to give her warning and shock her according to how fast she was moving when she hit the boundary, but I think she broke land-speed records as she bolted after those rabbits.  We used to think that her high-pitched yelping was from getting shocked as she chased rabbits, but now we know that's the sound she makes in excitement of the hunt.  She doesn't even feel that shock.  In fact, she doesn't seem to hear, feel, or smell anything except her prey when she locks on like that.  I have held a handful of roast chicken under her nose while she stared down a rabbit with her eerie blue eyes, and she never twitched so much as a whisker at it.  So the wireless fence collar didn't work out so well, though it theoretically told us how many feet away from the house she was, though not in what direction...  She moved so fast it couldn't begin to keep up with her with any accuracy. Every time the collars malfunctioned, (but still had SOME capacity to function,) the company readily agreed to send us another one... AFTER receiving ours in the mail.  I had the distinct impression that they can't conceive of what kind of dog might NEED this collar and not be able to go without it for the 2 weeks it takes to exchange in this method.

Same situation with her former GPS tracker.  That blue-eyed demon dog would be gone in less than a heartbeat and, while we waited for the notification that she was out of the home zone, she was a mile away and running hard.  Meanwhile, the app on my phone is telling me she is still in the home zone for 15 minutes as I cursed it thoroughly, screaming, "No she is NOT in the fucking home zone!  I saw her LEAVE the fucking home zone 10 minutes ago, you assholes!"  It seemed to me that the owner should have some kind of override of that system when we have visual confirmation of her departure.  That GPS system was upgraded and updated.  We lost a couple of them and paid for more because one out of 5 times we were successfully able to find her with it.  

One night she disappeared into the sub-zero wind chill of a Michigan winter after some deer.  We were at a friend's house so it wasn't even like she could just come home when she was done.  We all searched for a couple of hours before everyone else gave up and went to bed.  But I couldn't.  So we drove home, where I changed into every winter layer I owned and threw my cross country skis in my car.  Midnight found me floundering around in snow up to my waist with my headlamp shining uselessly upon the deer trail that quickly filled up with the falling snow.  My phone informed me that the GPS tracker battery had died, so I had only her location an hour prior to go by.  Another hour passed before I found her, and that damn dog was happily sniffing about in snow over her head just a quarter mile or so away.  She was pleased to see me, in a, "Hey, Mom, nice to see you, though I forgot about you," kind of way.  I was almost collapsing from exhaustion, but not Luna.  I leashed her and headed for the road, having had enough of falling and trying to get back up in the 3 feet of fresh snow in the dark.  Luna had plenty of energy left.  She decided it would be fun to pull me all the way down the road back to our friends' house on my skis, which was just fine with me.

Another time I was out for a run with Luna, back in the days when we thought that using an excessively long leash of some sort would keep her from getting too far from us due to the likelihood of it getting tangled on something and stopping her.  It worked like a charm!  I saw her dash off the trail after some deer, but within a few moments, I heard her, "I'm stuck," bark not too far away.  I dove into the brush and headed in that general direction while holding my phone in one hand, watching the blinking, blue dot that represented me, catch up with the little paw icon that represented her.  How perfect!  I quickly arrived at the place where my phone said she was.  I looked around. No Luna.  Then the mosquitoes descended en masse. I jumped around in place while looking everywhere.  I expanded my search into the brambles, nettles, and poison ivy nearby but no sign of Luna.  Unable to take the mosquitoes or stand still, I ran back to the trail and looked at the app again.  She hadn't moved.  I waited and sure enough, I heard her bark again, same place.  So I plunged back into the bug-infested, itchy, damp woods, calling for her and watching my phone.  (Meanwhile, my running app was pausing every time I held still and loudly announcing, "PAUSING WORKOUT!" followed by an equally cheery, "RESUMING WORKOUT!" when I moved again.)  Once again, there was no Luna.  Repeat of mosquitos, brambles, and the now-loathed running app that I couldn't deal with shutting off because I couldn't hold still long enough to do it without getting eaten alive!  My vehement profanity now included bitter hatred of that fucking running app.  "SHUT THE FUCK UP!  I KNOW ALREADY!  THERE IS NO MORE WORK OUT, CAN'T YOU SEE THAT???" OH, and did I mention I was out for my first run since having had hand surgery?  So my dominant hand was still unusable, which meant holding my phone in my other hand while waving my arm wildly at the cloud of tiny bloodsuckers.  I ran BACK out to the trail again to escape the bugs for a moment.  AGAIN Luna barked for me!  This time I decided not to call out to her, but to just go in silently, operating on the new idea that she was there but I just couldn't see her, though she could evidently see me.  This was correct.  After about 6 attempts, all the while cursing at top volume, I finally spotted her lying peacefully beneath a tree, just about 6 feet from the deer path I was using.  She looked at me like, "Mom!  Why did you keep running back and forth in front of me like that?"  I unwound her ridiculously long and tangled leash (all the while leaping about and slapping myself like a maniac and continuing to swear at mosquitoes, my phone, the running app, myself, and my dog with every fiber of my being,) and we went directly home, where Luna proceeded to sulk because HER walk had been too short!

One would think I'd have learned my lesson from that, but there was another day, which became night before it was over, when Luna got herself tangled up in the neighboring corn field.  Once again, the GPS app told us where she was, but we couldn't find her.  We finally concluded that she must have lost her collar in the cornfield.  This was decided as we both systematically walked, hunched over under the corn, our backs aching, up and down each row, using our camp headlights.  Eventually both of our phones died, so we couldn't see her approximate location (though it was useless to us anyway,) and when we got too far away, she barked, but there was no sense of where her bark was coming from!  Fast forward 3 hours and I finally found her, curled up in a ball taking a snooze under a corn stalk.  

Many more adventures ensued, usually involving some failed piece of equipment.  The extra-strong leash that had, indeed, very strong fabric... but weak thread holding the attachment for her collar.  The wireless fence that failed to beep in the house to tell us she was out of the zone.  The umpteenth GPS tracker that fell off in the woods somewhere, blending in perfectly with the forest floor. The same GPS tracker whose customer service reps told us (over the course of 2 years) that the tracker could be interfered with by:  lakes, hills, trees, buildings, or metal.  Right.  So... city or country, you're fucked with that one.  The super-strong, tie-out cables that came apart where they attached to either her collar or the gigantic piece of firewood at the other end... (Yes, we tried slowing her down with firewood... she got free anyway.)   The "training," collar that wouldn't stay charged or only worked when she was 5 feet away from us.  The fabulous, 18 level, beeping, vibrating, and shocking collar and remote that has a half mile range, but mysteriously failed to work one day and she quickly passed the half-mile mark.

So here we are in the present day. We received our new, GPS, Nuzzle collar on Thursday!!! I was SO excited and couldn't wait to try it out. It had more environmentally friendly and efficient packaging and the device and its home base are compact and sleek. I followed every direction step by step. I checked on line to make sure I did everything right. I leashed up the dogs and we headed out, with the spare battery charging at home and the app ready to go on my phone. We left the yard and walked about 2 minutes, tops. I decided we were out of the home zone, so I checked my phone for a notification. Hmm. That's odd; there isn't one. Huh. So I refreshed the app. Then I looked at the collar. The battery pack was gone. Fell off within the first 2 minutes of our walk. I retraced my steps 4 times before giving up and just going for our walk. I decided to let Nuzzle know about it, and remembered, happily, that the website says they are available 24/7 (Unlike our former GPS tracker.) I remained on hold for 30 minutes while my dogs explored in the woods. Finally, a representative politely collected my information, coolly apologized for the inconvenience, and said a new battery would be sent out. No mention of HOW to prevent this from happening again or indication that they would fix this issue. I looked at the design and realized that it would only take a dog scratching at their own neck to push that release button on the battery. Or if our other dog plays with her and grabs it just right. I spent over a hundred dollars (again) and listened to promises that THIS system would surpass the other company's. This collar was due to ship last November, 2016. It arrived 3 days ago, May 2017. I could not be more disappointed.

It is now 5 years into our blue-eyed girl's crazy life.  As I write these words, she is curled sweetly in a tiny ball in a chair nearby.  About half an hour ago, she was stretched out on the lawn asking for a belly rub, gently pawing the air with her white feet and smiling slightly as I baby-talked her and petted her ears and tummy.  During the night, she snuggles at my side, and when I come home from work she is there with her excited, puppy yelps and wagging tail.   Despite all of the crazy, the anxiety, the fury, and the fear, I LOVE this dog with all of my heart. I respect her wildness, though I worry nonstop about keeping her (and certain small dogs,) safe. I understand she can't help who she is and what she needs, and all I can do is keep trying to modify, contain, and hope for the best. She is not a dog who can live on a chain, in a fence, or without some freedom out in the world. Her heart would break and she would die of misery. It is my job, my responsibility, to try to see her through this human world that is no longer designed for wild creatures.

Now, it would just be nice if even ONE company could come through for us and design something JUST for Luna.