Monday, May 4, 2015

Safety First

I've realized lately that lots of our training, and lots of our equipment, has to do with safety.

Elka is on a collar and leash when we go outside, to make sure she's safe. She can't decide to run into the road, or chase something and get off our property, anything like that. On our walks, she's on a harness and collar, with liberty's attachment to make sure more than one thing will have to fail to put her in danger; not that I'm sure she'd just hare off somewhere the instant she had a chance, but better safe than sorry. See, there it is again.

In the car, she has a harness which hooks to the built-in child seat anchor vehicles have. In the case of an accident, it will hopefully protect her, and also the humans in the car, preventing the 75 pound dog in the back seat from becoming a missile within the vehicle. It also keeps her from just jumping out when a door is opened, so her exit can be controlled to a safe place and situation.

That's just the equipment, though.

When I open the door to leave the house, she may not just rush the door. This isn't an alpha thing (you know that's not my style), it's a safety thing. Our front door is just a short driveway away from a sometimes busy road. If we're leaving the house, she's on a leash and I release her to get onto the porch. If I'm just signing for UPS or taking a pizza delivery, she isn't out the door. She's there, you an be sure, but either next to me or a few feet back. In the back yard, I just want the same principle to hold; I certainly let her blast out there once I've said "okay", so she can happily chase squirrels out of the fenced area.

When we're out on a walk, I've got eyes on her to see what she's paying attention to, but also pay attention to our general situation. Runners, people on bikes, kids, other dogs, that kind of thing. Optimally, I want Elka to be mostly indifferent to most of these things; best case, she doesn't need to react to any of it. If a squirrel runs across the sidewalk in front of us, even though she's allowed to chase them specifically in our back yard, I can say "leave it" and she doesn't take more than a step, if that, in the squirrel's direction. She'll also drop an object she's picked up if I say "drop it"; my proudest moment with her is still the time she picked up a turkey sandwich at the park and dropped it on my say-so. Then recalled perfectly.

Other dogs are harder, because I cannot rely on other dog owners to be as vigilant. Once, years ago, a lady made a beeline to us with her Min Pin, from across the park, and when Elka calmly and curiously bent to sniff, the dog snarled and snapped and the lady said "oh, he's not good with other dogs." She then looked shocked when I told her to get the fuck away from us. But seriously, why would you do that? Or why would you walk your 100 pound lab on a Flexi lead while texting? Or any number of other things. So if another dog is around, or barking from a house or yard, I work for Elka to focus on me and to sail on by ("on by" is our cue for that, typically. If she continues to be concerned, "That's not your problem" is another, one we've generalized from in-house use with regards to things like slamming car doors).

In my town, I've noticed people have problems with those big red signs that say STOP on them. Also with those parallel white lines which are frequently in conjunction with those red signs. So when we reach a crossing, I stop and Elka sits and waits. This is the first thing I concentrate on, whether there is a car there or not. If it is clear, or if a car is there and stopped (and looks inclined to actually stay stopped, a shock I know), I say "okay" and we cross the street. She's getting so she'll stop on her own when her front feet touch those nobbly things on corner ramps, and when I stop she sits. It's pretty cool.

It's funny, though. I'm so concerned with Elka's safety and mine, that when I get a view from "the other side" as it were, I don't always realize it. People look at us walking, see a Doberman, and will sometimes cross the street. Or leave the sidewalk and walk on the shoulder of the road, even when a bus is coming. Because they're worried about their safety. A toddler was nearly tackled by her mother at the park the other day because she'd started towards us. If Elka was human aggressive or a baby eater, I wouldn't bring her past the playground or walk her when other people were out, but just like how I can't rely on other dog owners to be conscientious, other people don't know that about me either.

Two days in a row, people also said things to me about how Elka makes me safe. One time was a pair of college guys who walked out of a deli and onto the sidewalk behind us. They were, I think, talking to keep up their own bravado, and said in a somewhat admiring tone that Elka was "a beast." I smiled and said "Haven't you ever seen a Doberman before?"  The reply was "You must feel so safe walking with that dog. Like, so safe all the time." And then one of the guys said to the other, sotto voce, "can we walk over there? There isn't anybody over there" and they crossed the street. The other time was at the park, a lone gentleman passing us who went in the other direction. We both smiled and said hello, and then he said "You must have the safest house on the block."

Well. We try.


  1. Yep, I think other dogs (with irresponsible owners) are often the real danger. We take all these precautions as well, but you can't always control what others do. Ruby just recovered from an injury from an off leash dog who jumped on her and broke her toe. The dog was friendly and just wanted to play, but he was much larger. His person was walking him off leash ...

    1. Ouch, a broken toe is no fun! Elka broke her toe when she was about a year old...was trailing a leash when we were training in the backyard, and got it caught when she pounced on a ball.

      But that's a good point. Off leash dogs aren't necessarily a danger because they're going to be aggressive; sometimes they'd just too boisterous or excited, and accidents happen.

  2. Your mom sounds like our mom. We always think of our safety
    Lily & Edward

    1. it's really important. It might be a little bit easier with you little guys, even together you weigh less than Elka!

  3. You have a great bond with your dog. Elka is very smart.

    Doesn't surprise me that people cross the road when they see you.Too many times the media publishes negative articles about specific breeds of dogs, such as Dobermans, Rottweiler, Pitbulls and Staffordshire bull terriers. Since people often associate those breeds with aggressiveness and danger, they leave themselves vulnerable to other breeds. I recently heard a story about a Yorkshire terrier attack on a child. It wouldn't surprise me if the owner thought it was unlikely since it's not a specific bull-terrier breed.

  4. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. We love reading about your mom always thinking safety first. We hope you are have a fantastic start to your weekend.
    World of Animals