30 October 2009

Behind the scenes look at how Team Small Dog behaves at work all day.

Every day, me and the dogs go to work at a ranch. We've done this for a long time.

The ranch we currently work out of had some dog problems a few years back, so it's no dogs allowed. Being a trainer there, I bring my dogs, but they need to stay in the dog pen or walk around on a leash. So they're not exactly ranch dogs. More like sleep in a pen all day dogs. They all sleep in a wad in a german shepherd size crate shoved in the back of their pen, I don't even think everyone knows there are actually 3 dogs in there. Looks like a big, black lump with eyes and ears here and there. They spend the day snoozing on fluffy white saddle pads, waking up occasionally to bark at the feral cats that live under the tackroom. I'm pretty busy at work all day, and I walk by them a million times a day, but that's about it. They just sleep away the day.

Otterpop and Ruby used to be ranch dogs, back at the old ranch. Ruby would mostly pad around behind me or go look for gophers. She has that good terrier sense that dogs don't chase horses, and was always a model ranch dog. Didn't much like other dogs to come up there, would give them a hard time, but that was about it.

Otterpop had her own way of working at the ranch. She used to lie down outside the gate to the arena, and stare at the horse I'd be on. She would sometimes creep closer and closer, inching her way inside the gate, but never leaving that starey eyed down. She was always waiting for some horse to go naughty so that she'd be able to take care of it. Luckily, I don't much like naughty horses so she'd just lay there waiting all day.

Otterpop used to hate laborers, like really hate them, so that took some work until she could learn to be civil to the guys that worked on the ranch. Roberto used to bring her carne asada to try to bribe her into not hating him and I don't remember even that working. Otterpop was a tough nut when she was young.

When people came out for lessons, the dogs would either go hang out in the office, or lay on the deck and hang out with people watching the riders. Get into the trash. Steal lunches. Both of them came hardwired to know how to be around horses, how close to get, how to stay out of pastures and paddocks and not to enter the arena. They had a pretty good life being ranch dogs.

I got Gustavo when we were at the current ranch, the no dogs ranch. So all he knows about being a ranch dog is Go Get in Your Pen. He has no clue about being a good dog around horses, staying out of pastures and the arena, waiting under the truck. Gustavo is divalicious. If he's not sleeping in the dog clump, he prances around on a leash and has playdates with Gordon, dog of one of the ranch workers, who lives down the hill in the trailer.

Until Otterpop's leg went crappy, we took a long run on the beach or in the woods every morning, or stopped and practiced a little bit of agility before heading out there, so everybody spent the day nice and tired. Now there's not so much exercising going on and I know Gustavo suffers most from that.

Every day at work, the big dog outing is walking down to the porta potty. They take that walk every single day, at the end of the day before we drive home. They walk down there with me, I go in, when I come out we all walk back up to their pen. No one chases cats, goes looking for turkeys. They just hang out under the oak trees at the porta potty, and sniff around a little bit, then we walk back.

I don't think Gustavo ever realized he didn't have to hang out under the oak trees by the porta potty. All this time, I just thought he was a good dog. I realize now, he just didn't think to ever branch out, and explore. Didn't realize, all this time, this was his big chance to make a break for it, run down to the gulley, run anywhere he wanted, on the ranch.

Until today.

I swear, I saw the little light bulb just light up in the air over his ears, right as I stepped out of the porta potty. All of a sudden, it just occurred to him after all this time, today he could just leave, run free, and take himself on a run. And off he went.

Otterpop and Ruby just froze, mortified. WHAT is that dog doing, he is SO busted. Behavior this bad, totally off their charts. Even off Otterpop's chart.

He ran down the hill, ran under the fence, ran across the road and up the neighbor's property. Just running free. Off he went. I called him a couple times, realized this was futile at this point, then just sat down on a log and me and the other other dogs watched him rip.

Across the neighbor pasture, down the neighbor driveway. There are rarely cars on the road, so didn't worry me too much that he'd have to cross the road back. Gave him a minute or so, then whistled, saw that he saw me, then I took off running with the other dogs, back up the driveway to the barn. He saw that, and came ripping right back to us. At least he came back. When he goes wild like that, usually only happens up in the forest, I sometimes wonder. The look in his eye though, when he came running back into my arms, that wild little sparkle, told me, I think this dog could never, ever learn how to be a real ranch dog.

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