Hide and Seek: A Golden Retriever Survival Story

The main reason I have decided to write this story is because I feel it will help get it off my mind.  It has haunted me in a way, invading my thoughts before going to sleep and causing a deep sense of uneasiness.  For one who possesses a relatively healthy frame of mind on a somewhat consistent basis, the presence of recurring images of horror and desperation stands out far too boldly.  Perhaps by relating the incidents in the most realistic way possible, I will relieve myself of their onerous existence.

It was a clear day and the sun was setting behind the imposing shapes of the Cascade Mountains which border central Oregon on its west side.  At this time I usually like to go for a run with the dog and get in a good hard set of exercise before showering and sitting down to one of those great home-cooked meals.  But "clear" in central Oregon does not presuppose a warm temperature, especially in the middle of December when it has already snowed and experienced a good deal of subfreezing weather.  On this particular occasion all the snow had melted and the air was very dry but there was a definite bite in the air - cold enough to maintain a thick crust of ice on the ponds near the house.  Ice.  That word now holds a special meaning for me.  Never before did I think it would have such a large bearing upon my experience.

The dog's name is MacGregor and he and I would often play and romp while the sun went down.  I would throw tennis balls for him or anything else I could get my hands on.  He is a pure bred golden retriever and without a doubt one of the most wonderful dogs I have ever known, and I have known a lot of them.  He is the type of dog that will do anything with you, go anywhere, and always be ready to play.  He is the unusual combination of being tough and strong yet his demeanor so gentle, sweet and loving.

I invent all sorts of games with him as we go on our evening romps and this particular evening it was hide and seek.  Adjacent to the ponds which lie about 500 yards from our house, there is a winding bike trail which continues all around the property.  The day before, Mac and I had gone the whole length of the trail, me on the bike, and he dashing alongside, occasionally rolling in the tall grass but always catching up and staying with me.  But this day I was on foot and running all around this bike trail with him chasing me.  A road goes over the bike trail at one point near the ponds, and a tunnel was constructed so that whether on foot or on a bike, one can proceed through the tunnel beneath the road.  I would throw a stick or something similar for Mac and while he is streaking to fetch it, I would dash to the front of the tunnel.  Just as he turns around to see me and brings the object to me as fast as possible, I would run through the tunnel and hide on the other side.  When he comes rushing through the tunnel to find me I would have already climbed up over the road and be back to the front and dashing the opposite direction while he would be hauling around the back of the tunnel still trying to find me.  He is so unbelievably fast and also so quick to learn the tricks of the game, that it is quite rare for me to escape very far before he is beside me again.

On this afternoon which I have begun to describe, we were involved in that very game and I had managed to get him wandering in great circles on the back side of the tunnel while I was dashing along the bike trail towards the house.  He took a longer time than ordinary to figure out that I was already running back and by the time he popped out of the front of the tunnel I was well around the pond.  There were two ways he could have caught up with me:  either by sprinting along the bike trail which circumvented the pond or else by making his way in a straight line directly across the intervening ice-covered pond.  Before relating his decision, I should briefly describe the nature of this pond area for it factors in greatly to the details of the story.  It is a large area designed for a wild bird preserve and all sorts of tractors have been involved in moving great masses of dirt around its edges to form the optimum shape.  The designers wanted islands and irregular land masses to appear among the bodies of water to give it the maximum aesthetic effect.  But they had not finished their project at this time and the state of the area was quite a mess.  If the weather had been warmer it would be one huge muddy mass with great walls of dirt surrounding the water and no one would dare encroach upon the water for fear of either sinking in the mud or else sliding in the water itself.  But at this time of year, it was cold enough to not only create a thick crust of ice along the surface of the water but also to harden all of the dirt areas into huge irregular masses of dark brown. It was definitely not an area where one should play, at least not for another six months or so until they groom the area to a reasonable smoothness.

 

Mac didn't give a damn about the mud or the water or the ice but had one concern in his mind - to catch up with me on the other side of the pond and thereby conclude our wild game.  Without hesitation he decided to take the short route and ran out upon a muddy promontory which led to the icy surface of the pond.  His decision was by far the quicker method for there was a large bay which he would have had to run around if he stayed on land and that would take far too long by his standards.  By this time I was stopped on the other side of the pond and watching his every move as he began to step along the ice.  There was something about his movement along the ice that fascinated me.  It was like courting disaster for if it were me on that ice it would have cracked on the instant.  But for Mac it was a very practical medium for his immediate purpose.  He was no dummy about ice, however, and would not have ventured upon it if he did not think it was safe.  That is not to say he didn't take risks; many a time he would be chasing a stick or something along a frozen area and the ice would cave in but he was a born swimmer and he would crack his way back to land.  His coat was a double variety and I would always be amazed at how the extreme cold temperature of the water didn't affect him.  He loved it.

I stood there standing in my nice warm sweat clothes watching him scurry across this hundred yard stretch of ice and felt a sting of worry run across me.  This was a far larger body of ice-covered water than I had seen him attempt before.  Usually it was small narrow streams of ice which he courted and if he happened to fall in I would always be close enough on land to nab him should he not be able to paw or bite his way through the ice to safety.  The size of this pond scared me.  I was momentarily reassured by his confidence in crossing it because he was moving across it more quickly than his good judgment normally allowed.  Then his rapid forward movement suddenly came to a halt about fifteen feet from the muddy cliffed edge of the pond.  His sudden stop compelled me to run to the top of the cliff and I felt bewildered by his action.  He stood absolutely still and I knew he felt something was wrong.  I knew how badly he wanted to make it to where I stood yet he stopped stone still.  His face was toward me and his expressive eyes seemed to show great concern.  Then I heard the horrible, grating, cracking sound of the ice beneath him and his head swirled around as he watched the water gradually seep around his paws.  With one final staccato of snapping ice, he plunged straight down until only his head and flailing paws could be seen.

Now this very scene has happened in the course of our playing probably a dozen times, but for some reason I felt this was different.  The ice was too thick.  There was no way for him to crack the ice surrounding him with his paws or his teeth and break through to shore.  I stood above the six foot cliff which overlooked the round hole of water where he was trapped.  He would place his powerful two front paws on the ice edge before him like so many times before, but it would not give.  He would try the same action all around the hole but none of the edges would even crack.  He had fallen into some kind of freak spot in the ice and he soon recognized his dangerous dilemma and started to let out long high whimpers.  His next course was to try to place those paws on the edge and pull himself up but the anatomy of a dog is such that it is a virtually impossible trick.

All kinds of thoughts were racing through my head.  I remembered the story of a dog drowning due to the exact same situation.  I thought of all the times I had seen Mac on top of ice and wondering what I would do if he should helplessly fall in and only be able to survive through my assistance.  I thought of tugging him with a long branch which he would clamp onto with his teeth but there were only bare hills of dirt around the pond.  His desperate paddling and whimpering drove me crazy and, as he was watching me, I could feel him pleading for help.  I had to crack the ice in such a way to enable him to swim out.  The hills of dirt were encrusted with large irregular pieces of lava rock which I fished out with my hands.  The first one I heaved down and it made a hole but not a long crack which Mac could break through.  The next one I threw closer to him but it didn't penetrate and bounced to the edge of his icy hole.  I couldn't believe how hard the ice was and I desperately scratched the dirt for another rock to split the ice.  I was shocked to discover after turning around that Mac had grabbed the huge lava rock in his mouth.  He must have thought we were still playing games - his pure retriever breeding coming to the fore, he had this huge rock in his mouth, far too heavy to carry and the extra weight lowered his golden body further towards a very icy death.  I screamed at him to drop it but that was probably the last thing in his mind.  Only his most basic instincts were controlling him now.  He knew only to retrieve and would die in his attempt to do so.

The desperation of it all made me wild.  I threw mud at him hoping it would make him drop the rock and float longer in his attempt to fight the ice.  I screamed over and over but to no avail.  Finally, he began really sinking and flailing at the water with his paws, only his mouth and eyes and the rock above water.  I couldn't believe all of this happening right near our warm cozy house in an area which is usually reserved for casual walks and gazing upon the sky and country in peaceful reflection.  At that moment all was wild and horrible.  I knew I had to go in after him.  So many times I had thought about this but it was really happening now.  There was no time for deliberation or wise plans of rescue - he was sinking.  On an instant I remembered the horrible report that humans could not enter water of such a terribly cold temperature for it would cause the heart to stop.  Here I was in the physical prime of life, an excellent swimmer, yet confronted with a seemingly invincible aquatic situation.  Thoughts of people falling off of canoes in an icy stream and rendered utterly helpless would enter my mind.  I envisioned Mac and I disappearing beneath the ice never to be found until the next spring when the ice would finally melt.  So horrible and only 500 yards to our warm home and family.  I was in a frenzy but all of a sudden everything became so clear.  It was Mac himself that made me come to my senses.  He was far more than just a dog sinking in the ice.  He represented so much of true life with all his vivacity and love of play.  He had a character which far surpassed most people and stood for all the qualities which make life worth living.  To me, he was life itself and never more so than at that moment.  I felt myself going down with him and I couldn't let it happen.  All thought stopped and I moved into action.  I slid down the muddy surface of the cliff and landed on the edge of the pond, breaking its edge with a loud shotgun crack.  The ice was a lot thicker than I had imagined.  Stepping deeper and deeper into the freezing water, I broke the surface with my hands and made my way slowly to Mac's hellish place.  Cursing, I tore the lava rock out of his mouth and he rose up high enough in the water for me to grab his collar and heave him up over the hole's edge on his way to the shore.  At that moment I felt something weak inside me.  I was up to my shoulders in the water which had hundreds of pieces of ice floating on it and I could feel my heart miss.  There was nothing painful but just a feeling of extreme and desperate vulnerability.  I was able to back my way out of the water and scratched up the surface of the muddy cliff.  I only wanted to get back to a hot shower and ran on the bike trail home with Mac running and prancing about me.

Create a Dog-friendly Backyard

The weather is warm, and the backyard beckons. Your dog is probably just as eager as you are to enjoy time outside.

But although your pal may be ready for a romp through the yard and a roll in the grass, it’s up to you to make sure your yard is just as ready. It’s time to think like the parent of a very active toddler and create a dog-friendly backyard.

A Backyard Safety Checklist
Before you let your dog loose in your fenced-in yard, it’s important to consider any potential hazards. Check for these common threats:

  • Fences Most of us rely on some type of metal or wooden wall to keep our dogs from roaming, but make sure the material you’ve chosen to construct your fence includes no sharp edges or splinters. Also, put your dog in a breakaway collar so that, if she gets tangled up, she can free herself with a tug or two. This is also extra insurance for those of you with jumpers who aim to hurdle over fences. (Some agile dogs can leap to the top, but are unable to clear the tall posts when their collars get stuck.) You’ll finally want to survey the fence for loose boards and other types of damage that might have occurred during the winter months.
  • Chemicals Many commercial fertilizers and weed killers are now safe for animals, provided the manufacturer’s instructions are followed -- but others can cause illness. Beware of rodent and insect repellants. Read the label on each package before using a chemical product in your yard, and consider organic methods when possible. Keep your veterinarian’s number readily available in case of poisoning or call the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

  • Plants Some of gardeners’ most beloved flowers and bushes, including tulip and daffodil bulbs, are harmful when ingested by dogs. Research before planting.
  • Pools/hot tubs Dogs love to take a plunge, but sometimes the high walls of these swimming holes are too high for them to climb out safely. Always make sure to cover or fence in your water spots.
  • Lack of shade Your dog will need plenty of shade and water to keep from overheating on warm days.
  • People food and beverages Take time to think about your dog when you host backyard cookouts and parties. It can be more difficult to police drinks and food when guests leave cups and plates underneath lawn chairs and the like. Make sure your dog doesn’t have access to alcoholic beverages and harmful foods such as chocolate, raisins and grapes, advises the ASPCA.

Consider These Alternatives
If you are concerned about your dog spending unsupervised time in your yard, consider using a dog run where he can safely romp. A toddler’s plastic play area might work for smaller dogs and has the advantage of portability.

If you feel that your dog is safe in your yard and you are worried about your flowers, consider chicken wire. Fencing your flowers with chicken wire offers a nearly invisible force field that will deter the most determined doe or Dachshund.

Ticked off the checklist? Then it’s time to relax and enjoy some yard time with your best friend.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/jeffdalt

Dogs and the Workplace

The sad eyes. The droopy face. The moping. Let’s face it -- you probably hate leaving your dog in the morning to go to work just as much as he hates being left.

What if you could avoid all that, and instead bring your dog along with you when you head to the office?

Bringing your dog with you to work isn’t just about the fun of having him with you throughout the day - the benefits to having a dog in the workplace have been scientifically proven. For example, a study by Central Michigan University found that when dogs are present in a group, employees are more likely to trust each other and collaborate more effectively in the office. Dogs can also help break the ice when it comes to communication between co-workers.

Greg Kleva, a celebrity dog behavioral therapist/master trainer for Bark Busters Home Dog Training in New Jersey, explains how mood-boosting chemicals increase when dogs are around.  “Interactions with dogs have been proven to increase levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘feel good’ hormone,” Kleva said. “Studies have shown that the presence of dogs in the workplace may also reduce stress hormone (cortisol) levels for their owners. These same studies indicate that cortisol levels for workers who didn't bring their dogs to work were drastically higher by the end of the working day.”

In fact, many places have been using canine companions to provide therapeutic relief for years now. “Look no further than your local rest home, hospital, library, elementary school, etc to see dogs being utilized for their therapeutic value,” Kleva says. “Dogs are also often seen in disaster zones and courtrooms to help calm those in traumatizing situations.”

For employers, the fact that having canine companions around increases productivity makes it a plus for them as well. “Dogs have the ability to break down the barriers that keep humans from interacting with one another,” explains Kleva. “We find it much easier to chat with someone we don’t know quite as well if we approach them to meet their dog.”

Of course there will be some prep involved if you’re thinking of bringing your dog with you to work. “Start by training your dog to greet people appropriately by teaching him to sit while greeting, rather than jumping up,” suggests Kleva. Other basic commands like ‘come’, ‘stay’, ‘leave it’, and ‘go to bed’ should be mastered as well, and you’ll need to make sure he can ignore distractions. You can practice by bringing him to the park, where there are a lot of distractions, and making him pay attention to your commands.

It’s also important to make sure your dog is both physically and mentally stimulated to keep him calm and to reduce boredom prior to entering your workspace. This will make the experience better for your dog and everyone in the office.

Be sure to have the right supplies on hand if you’re bringing your dog along with you to the office, as well. A leash is the most important thing to have, as it can be used for walks, as well as keeping him under your control. “Since bringing your dog to the office can be a stressful experience for your dog and cause him apprehension, bring your dog’s pillow or blanket from home so he has something familiar to comfort him,” says Kleva. “Also help your dog stay entertained by bringing along dog puzzle toys that make him work to earn a treat. Bring food or treats and a water bowl so your dog can stay well hydrated, too.”

There may be some drawbacks that come with bringing your dog to the office, too. The most obvious is that a co-worker may be allergic. Be sure to check with everyone in the office before you bring your dog in and put someone’s health in danger.

You should also be on the lookout for accidents, and it will be your responsibility to ensure your dog does not ruin any equipment in the office.  Barking or aggression can be off-putting to office mates, as well, and the additional time added to an already hectic work schedule to tend to your dog’s needs throughout the day may upset coworkers. Trying your dog out at the office for a half day may a good way to determine if it’s a good fit for your dog’s personality, as well as for everyone else in the office.

Exercise and the small dog

Just like you, your small dog needs exercise to stay healthy and happy. Small dogs are defined as those that weigh less than 22 pounds and who are shorter than 16 inches. “Exercise helps to keep your pet physically fit, mentally secure, socially engaged and emotionally happy,” says Lori Morton-Feazell, Director of Animal Care and Education for Petco. “It also reduces stress and deters negative behaviors such as chewing, digging and barking.”

If you are considering an exercise plan because you believe your pooch is overweight, your veterinarian can examine your dog and let you know if he needs to lose a few pounds. If your dog has difficulty walking or playing, he could be overweight, and it will be important to start any exercise regime slowly to build up endurance and lung capacity. 

Even if your small dog is the proper weight and is healthy, it is still important to check with your veterinarian to learn about any specific precautions you may need to be aware about for your dog’s breed, like breathing problems. Additionally, if it has been a while since your dog has exercised, start slow with short walks and play sessions. Always take your dog’s age, breed and health into account when starting any exercise routine.  “Begin with a 15-minute walk each day, and after the first week increase it by 5 minutes,” Morton-Feazell recommends. “Watch your dog for signs of [exhaustion] like heavy panting or their tongue hanging out, and remember if it is a long walk, take water to give to your dog. If your dog is used to exercise, a 30-60 minute walk daily is enough to keep him physically fit and emotionally happy.”

Keep in mind that the amount of exercise your dog needs is not equivalent to his size, but rather to his breed. For example, a small Jack Russell Terrier requires more exercise than the much larger Great Dane. Oppositely, a Labrador Retriever is a very active dog and would need more exercise than a tea cup Poodle. Ask your vet about how much exercise your particular breed of dog should be getting.

Of course going on walks isn’t the only way to exercise your pup. Other options for include obedience training and agility training.  “Try teaching him a new trick,” says Morton-Feazell. “Some simple ideas are give paw, high five, sit and stay.  This can help keep your dog emotionally happy and social.”

As far as agility training goes, many small breeds are very agile, and doing agility training through simple obstacles is a great way to experience the human/animal bond with your dog, in addition to providing exercise.

The key to getting the most out of an exercise program is getting your dog’s heart rate up, which will cause her to have a good pant. “Be careful not to over-exercise your dog and cause heavy panting or heavy breathing,” explains Morton-Feazell. “Give your dog breaks to catch his or her breath and get a drink of water.”

The best way to encourage your small dog to exercise is by incorporating toys into the workout.  Puppies, particularly, love to chase toys and put them in their mouths. Some options for older small dogs are balls, frisbees, Kongs or other toys that can be thrown for your dog to retrieve.  Morton-Feazell advises that you pick the right size toy for your dog. Don’t give your small dog a large toy as they may not want to play with it. You also want to make sure that the toy is large enough to not get stuck in the dog’s throat and cause an injury.

Keep in mind that all small dogs are different and will receive the most benefit from different types of exercises. There are no exercises that are off limits for your small dog, although some modifications can be made to accommodate their size. While playing, walking or training your dog, notice if he is tired, panting excessively or thirsty. These are signs that you may be pushing him too hard and that he needs a break and/or water.

How to Play Soccer With Your Dog

While it may be hard to imagine your beloved Fido out on a field dribbling a soccer ball, shooting on a goal and scoring, in fact there are many dogs that do just that—and love it! Whether you’ve seen them strut their stuff at a half-time show, on a TV talent competition, or in family films like 1999’s Soccer Dog: The Movie, here are three reasons we can’t get enough of dogs playing soccer.

1.) It’s adorable. When Mark Lucas saw a dog dribble a soccer ball at the halftime show of a professional soccer game, he became determined to train dogs the same way. Soon after, he founded Soccer Collies, a troupe of dogs who can run with the ball, bounce it off their noses, and even catch it between their paws and their chin. Lucas brings his dogs to interact with kids and adults at schools, charity functions, and sporting events. BEK and Ms. Z, his two beloved Collies, are even able to shoot (and score!) on a goal.

2.) It’s fun! The first step in teaching a dog to play soccer is finding out whether they’re ‘ball motivated,’ says Lucas. The simplest way to figure that out is to bounce a basketball in front of them. If they seem excited and eager to play, then they will likely enjoy learning tricks with a soccer ball. “All breeds that like a ball will play soccer,” Lucas added. At first your pooch might not know quite what to do with a ball that’s too big for him to pick up in his mouth, but soon enough he’ll figure out how to pounce on it and move it with his paws. “People shouldn’t get discouraged, it does take time,” says Lucas. Start simple by having your dog bring you the ball. If you reward him with praise and treats, he’ll be much more inclined to keep up the good work. Of course, it becomes even more fun when you get in the game and run, pass, and steal.

3.) It’s healthy.  In the wild, dogs spend their days moving, running, and scrounging for food. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, often spend their days relaxing, sleeping, and lounging around. That’s why walks and play are so incredibly important for keeping your dog healthy and happy. Dogs that aren’t getting enough physical activity often display negative behaviors like digging, chewing, barking, jumping, hyperactivity, and sometimes even aggression. Getting your dog to run around with a soccer ball is a great form of exercise, not to mention an opportunity for you and your dog to bond. “The dogs are getting a great physical workout,” says Lucas, “and they’re also getting a mental workout. The more you play, the more they want to play, and that’s how they get to be so good.”

You can find out more about Lucas and his furry friends at SoccerCollies.com, or on Twitter @SoccerCollies.