Dog’s Eye View: The robin told me the owl was there
July 20, 2017
As I stepped out on my back porch with my first cup of coffee this early morning, the robin told me the owl was back in one of its favorite daily roosting spots in my willow trees. Robin's incessant chatter gives warning to those who will listen. In nature, for the robin and other small birds, the owl is one of the most accomplished predators. They also hunt small varmints and snakes, essentially, whatever makes itself available and easy to capture. Availability of prey is how nature works.
Our backyard is fenced in and set up to feed and water the wild birds, and we enjoy the music they share and the antics of their offspring as they grow from fledgling to adult in the span of just a few months.
Since we have two small dogs, I am very watchful of the owl's behavior. As much as I am enamored with its beauty, I keep its purpose in life as a predator in mind. I also understand that most of their hunting is done during the late evening and throughout the night. So, this young great horned owl can rest easy in my trees throughout the day.
As our human population continues to put pressure on nature's resources, we need to educate ourselves about how nature works. In nature, the bottom line is calorie input vs. calorie output to sustain the species. There's no glamour in nature, only survival. As I sip my coffee and watch the owl preening its feathers and preparing to rest up for the next nightly hunt, I can't help but compare the wild birds in nature to our own favorite dogs. Even though generations of breeding are bringing us closer together as humans with companion dogs, we need to understand their origin.
With new opportunities to turn dogs loose to hike with us off leash, it is more important than ever to take stock of our dogs' ancestry. Some large dogs are great with the little ones, but dogs that have not been socialized with their smaller counterparts might consider them prey. Sight control is not always feasible, and a reliable recall can become quite ineffective when your dog is locked onto what he considers prey. Think about how much attention your dog gives you with his sights set on a squirrel. They might give chase to anything that runs in the opposite direction.
The next year will be a trial for more off-leash freedom to hike with our dogs. Only time will tell if each person walking a dog thinks about his or her own responsibility to community safety. The fate of off-leash hiking is now in our hands.
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Initiate your training conversation at your car before you start your hike. Let your dog know that something great awaits when she responds to your call. Practice calling her back every 20 or 30 yards for a yummy treat, then release her to continue the walk.
Coming back to you should be more rewarding than what's out ahead. Keep the conversation going with your canine and reward her for checking in with you. If you wait to call until she is following a scent trail or chasing another dog, you will undermine your recall.
It will take hundreds of joyful, rewarding "come heres" to build compliance. In nature, you can't take anything for granted. Tip the scales in your favor by keeping your training skills fresh every day, and please, be watchful, so you can spot her when she goes potty outside. Just because it's not on the trail doesn't mean you can leave it. Coyotes and bears take great delight in eating canine poop. An overabundance will bring them closer to the human trails, and that can spell disaster.
Only the people taking advantage of this great opportunity for off-leash freedom can help make this a wise decision and a permanent one. The fate of small dogs, mountain bikers, older hikers, children and reactive dogs on leash is in our hands. The ramifications of serious conflicts with humans and dogs will be tragic and costly.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as Certified Nose Work Instructor through the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.