When Good Dogs Go Bad

Tsuga succumbed to bad influences at an early age
Tsuga succumbed to bad influences at an early age

Finally, after months of walking the dog on the leash over hunting season, Ann deigned to turn him loose while she gathered twigs for the stove. Several times he ventured off a piece, and came back to where she did her work.

Then he got the scent of something and disappeared up into the rhododendrons near Ann’s Falls.

To make a long story short, he was gone for longer than he’s ever been gone when darkness fell. I wouldn’t say it; she was already overcome with guilt for letting him run free. But if he had to stay outside a single night in the upper teens, I worried there was a good chance we may never see him again.

Unable to rest or get anything done, we did busywork and paced and rang the bell and whistled and shined the spotlight over in the pasture, then repeated it. That was all we could do.

On one of uneasy visits to the back porch to whistle futilely one more time, the dog raced past heading down toward the barn. I think he thought we were still over where he’d last seen Ann several hours earlier .

We hollered from the house and he came running, seemingly frantic, and if I might indulge in a little anthropomorphic inference, he was ashamed and sorry to have caused us such grief–not to mention being totally exhausted. We experienced the mixed feelings of needing to hug his neck and kick his butt.

The bottom line: we’ll be working again on following commands, especially for Ann who is, she might confess, more permissive of bad behavior than I am.

We’ll be using some new special treats to associate our call and hand signal with reward. She’s the one out with him most, and she’s let him get away with very little compliance and get the treat anyway.

Now, if we could only get rid of all the wildlife carcasses (raccoons lately, three within a couple of weeks: rabies?) that tempt him away and then make him puke in the wee hours. Oh the many and diverse joys of pet companionship!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Our dog is totally untrained to respond to commands, too. My bad!! My husband’s, too. The dog is smart and not stubborn, so it ain’t his fault. Anyhoo, I empathize with you guys. But oh, how very much the joys of living with dogs outweigh the griefs.

  2. We can completely relate! Our wayward pups are finally starting to respond to basic commands but we have only ourselves to blame – and the allure of the cow pasture beyond our house!