Holy Coyote!

“You don’t have to tell them everything.” That was the advice I got today when I told a well-meaning person about writing the blog I’m about to share…and I can see why she said it. But as much as I’m not proud of what happened a few days ago, it’s only fair to share it here, after the last post about how well Bodhi was doing off-leash at the park.

Two mornings ago, Bodhi and I were taking our usual COD (Crack Of Dawn) walk around the hills and pathways of our local park. I’d been allowing him off-leash for brief incriments in areas where I could see that no other people or dogs were around. He was doing great! He’d trot off maybe 20-30 feet away, leave pee-mail on a poor, unsuspecting bush, then come back to my side. We practiced recalls and “walk with me” as we went. He was doing so well two mornings ago, in fact, that I was able to recall him from a full charge after a bunny that crossed our path!

Although I was feeling pretty pleased with the both of us, I still kept Bodhi leashed in certain areas. It wasn’t just the people and other dogs I was concerned about—it was the coyotes that roam the hillsides. My husband, who takes one dog running in the mornings while I take the other to the park, had warned, “He’ll chase a coyote, be careful.” I didn’t doubt it. And so I waited until we’d left the hillsides where the coyotes hang out and we were headed onto the flat dirt track, a main area of the park that’s out in the open. I unclipped Bodhi’s leash and kept walking. A split-second later, he’d turned to look at something behind us in the distance, and disappeared! I don’t know how it’s possible to live with a dog for two years and never have seen him running at full speed, but that’s exactly what happened. Bodhi was suddenly a blur of black tearing across the field after a coyote, who was racing toward the hillside. My first thought was about how coyotes have been known to lure dogs into the hillsides, where their coyote gang is waiting. I ran after Bodhi, calling to him as I went.

Have I mentioned that by “the field” what I really mean is a huge dirt lot filled with nothing but sticker bushes? Nevertheless, I raced after Bodhi as fast as I could, calling to him over and over in what I hoped was still a happy, encouraging voice. All too quickly, he and the coyote disappeared around a bend in the hillside. There was nothing to do but keep running toward them and calling Bodhi’s name. Other than my voice, the morning was silent—too silent. They seemed to stretch on forever, those moments of chasing Bodhi while trying to catch my breath long enough to call him again.

In reality, it was probably less than a minute between the time he dashed off and the time he finally reappeared, trotting back toward me. My relief at seeing him was quickly replaced by worry at noticing that he was limping. Had he been attacked? Did we need to rush to the vet? Visions of having to carry Bodhi across a field of sticker bushes danced through my mind as he reached me. Since I’d been calling him, and he did show up, I managed to give Bodhi a jackpot of hot dogs and happy praise.

Then I inspected his leg. It quickly became apparent that the limping was caused by a number of stickers that had embedded themselves in his paw pads. Relieved that it wasn’t worse, I took my gloves off and carefully removed the stickers one by one—how do they always seem to manage to pierce human skin so easily? Soon Bodhi was happily walking along by my side as I led him between the bushes back on to the main trail. And yes, I leashed him.

And so, this isn’t the blog I wanted to write today. “Bodhi recalls off chasing a bunny!” would have sounded so much nicer. But it’s what happened. I’m not happy about it, and clearly I will need to be more careful in that entire section of the park. A long line is going to be Bodhi’s friend once again. That’s okay. Better safe than sorry, and believe me, had it turned out badly, that would have been the kind of sorry that would have haunted me the rest of my life. So, it isn’t pretty, but it’s the truth. Things happen, and sometimes all we can do is to learn from them and be more vigilant the next time.

16 Responses to Holy Coyote!

  1. whattapup says:

    Oh Nicole! What an awful feeling. We all do it. I’m so glad he’s okay and that the story ends only with a bunch of stickers in a paw. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. It’s nice to know you’re human too.

  2. I salute you for sharing this terrifying experience. Management might not always trump Training, but it is sure a nice back-up!

  3. Nicole – I write on my blog all the time about my mishaps and triumphs. It helps people realise that they are not alone and in your case it makes us plebs realise even the Guru’s have their off days!
    Back to your blog………nothing more scarier than having to chase after your dog, with all sorts of scenarios going through your mind (is my dog ok, is the thing being chased going to be ok) all the while trying desperatly to keep the rising panic from your voice!
    and the WHAM, Holy Bat Paw BatMan! The surge of relief when everything goes back to normal!………………..

  4. Christine B says:

    Thanks for sharing this… I’m glad to hear it turned out the way it did 🙂
    I’m happy to hear that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, not just me, I’m very glad Bodhi came back so quickly- that is a testament to your training.

  5. trish mahon says:

    I love your honesty especially as I think you “experts” must do better than me. I have a rescue collie x who had wonderful recall but strong prey drive and one woodland walk I didn’t get the chance to react to her air sniffing and put the leash on because a deer landed in front of us. She took off after it and at 4 hours in and no dog I was left sobbing running around the hillside with my website on my jacket telling everyone I was a Dog Trainer. So many people were so kind to me that day, taking my phone number and searching for signs of a dog with vivid blue eyes. What few people knew was that the walk was an impulse one and I’d left home without her collar with I.D. and the failsafe; the whistle. At 5 hours in I called my husband at work and he went home to get the whistle and come help. She returned to the whistle 6 hours in and she could barely stand with exhaustion. I was on the radio next morning telling folks how to get their dogs through Halloween and I asked if I could thank the people who had helped me through the ordeal the previous day. The radio host though I was nuts but we all make mistakes and I will never leave home without the dogs I.D and the whistle again. Just got my Tawzer santa sack yesterday and that includes your Separation Anxiety DVD. Looking forward to watching it Nicole.

  6. sara golden says:

    I really appreciate your honesty and am happy for all of you that it ended well.

  7. Malamute Mom says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Nicole. I’m so glad to know that it all ended well. I bet Bodhi slept well that night 🙂

  8. MNichols says:

    Oh, that sinking feeling of failure & shoulda couldas. Thank GOD you have only a wake-up call to report. My “Florida Brown Dog” (mostly cattle dog, I presume) won my trust until I saw a red fox, thankfully before she did. No longer do I let her off-leash again. We saw two more red foxes last night & she barely batted an eye. She’s given up even trying as my Leave-it is always quite rewarding. (I had Angus beef with me!)

    Excellent advice, Trish, to NEVER leave home without your safety net, err, crutches. It doesn’t pay off to take shortcuts. We’ve all learned that.

    Thanks, Nicole for your intelligence, candor, & good will. Merry Christmas!

  9. Your honesty and willingness to share with others is part of what makes you so great at what you do. We are human; and we all have those days we wish we could do over. So grateful everything turned out as it did. Keep up the great training and great blogging. I look forward to reading!

  10. Steve DeBono says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority but I think trying to control every second of a dog’s experience is a mistake made too often in dog training… I think if you are lucky enough to live somewhere that gives an opportunity to relatively safely and legally take off leash hikes with your dog, the rewards for a dog’s mental health are worth a little risk. Forget interactive toys… exploring a little wilderness is a real mental work out. Giving the dog the freedom to just be a dog now and then… no more and no less… is a good thing!

    I am not saying that it should be taken lightly and that everyone should run around with leash-less dogs running amuck. But we need to let go of the idea that we can control the entire world… risks are everywhere, and we try to minimize them, but sometimes real happiness comes at the expense of taking a calculated risk or two.

    This isn’t a commentary on Nicole’s specific situation… I have no idea what conditions she is dealing with, but more of a general statement!

  11. Lora Robinson says:

    Nicole – you are to be commended for being so honest with your readers about your story. It tells us of your integrity as a ‘trainer of the trainers’ to be honest in the fact that ‘stuff’ happens to everyone!

    So glad the story ended well….. Looking forward to future blogs!!!

  12. Evelyn Haskins says:

    I wish I could say that my Kelly NEVER did that! but in her entire 14 years she only did it once — saw a rabbit and took off faster than I have ever seen her run either before or since. Sinking feelings of squashed dogs or hefty fines, mixed with guilt, remorse and anger that Kelly could DO that!!!

    But she came back whole, exausted and exhilarated with NO rabbit either.

    And she never did such a thing again — 🙂

    Love to your handsome boy, by the way 🙂



  13. wildewmn says:

    Thank you all for your comments and support. It’s not a pleasant feeling to admit it when things go wrong, but I know a lot of you can relate, and hey, we’re all in this together, right? It sounds like quite a few of you have had similar situations or close calls, and I’m glad that all of your dogs are safe.

    I agree with Steve’s statement that sometimes you just need to “let a dog be a dog,” but in environments like ours, unfortunately, many off-leash dogs aren’t (live) dogs for very long. We will continue to give our dogs as much of a natural experience as possible, which includes hiking around areas coyotes frequent, but they will be on long-lines in those areas so the worst is a lot less likely to happen.

  14. Marlies says:

    I know the feeling all too well. My Golden has an almost perfect recall, but when he spots a rabbit before I do all bets are off.
    Still, Bodhi DID come back, and fairly soon at that!

    So I salute you for sharing this story, AND for teaching Bodhi an almost perfect recall. 😉

  15. Penny Miller says:

    I actually love the fact that you let your dog off leash and let him have the life that he would choose to have if it were up to him. There is massive fulfillment for the dog in being off leash and at least getting a snapshot at the life that he or she would naturally be leading if it were up to him…what you see as sharing your failure, I see as a complete success.
    Bodhi came back.
    Yes it took a little while and you were panicked but your dog got a little taste of ‘call of the wild, (sorry if it sounds like a bad joke given your name) and what choice did he make?
    I read your blog and thought of all the things that were going through his mind as he chased the coyote, the thrill, the adrenaline…and yet despite all of that, he came back to you. I very much read it as “oh mum, I just wanted a taster of it, but look I’m back, no need to worry….”
    Your honesty, as always is refreshing and unusual, Nicole.
    The fact that there’s a happy ending to this story on both sides ( you got Bodhi back and he got to chase the coyote for a little and deliver a warning to him not to mess with him and his mum again) means you did a great job with him.
    As always, totally impressed by everything you do…

    • wildewmn says:

      Penny, thank you so much for the kind words. I’m sure Bodhi had a great time chasing the coyote, but still, that’s not the type of off-leash adventure I’d prefer he have! But you are right, it’s best to focus on the fact that he did come back. It could have been a lot worse! But again, thanks for your support. 🙂

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