We'd just come home from a properly leashed and well-behaved walk.
Can't really say I blame the girl for wanting to run a bit wild.
"Gracie! C'mon, girl!" My voice rang out across the lawns as my eyes scanned the street for a glimpse of red motion.
My dog was on the loose, running wild through the neighborhood.
Unlike my previous setters, Gracie does not often give me the slip. And 95% of the times she does get out, she doesn't go far. Over to the next door neighbors' house and into their garage, most likely. The previous family had a dog and she figured out that they kept an entirely accessible bag of dog food handy so she'd stop in to help herself to a little snack. Poor dog hasn't quite figured out that a new family has moved in, and they have no dog and thus no dog food. Still, she makes a beeline to their open garage and then quickly heads home when she realizes the treats are much better at our house.
But today, my dog was apparently overcome by a greater sense of adventure. She shot past the neighbors' garage and headed off down the hill to explore the great beyond.
As soon as I realized she was off on a run, I turned on my heel, marched into the house, and totally ignored her misdeed.
* * * * *
Those previous dogs of mine, Casey and Ranger, were classic bolters, as are many Irish setters, and they schooled me well in the fine art of coaxing a wild dog to come home.
Step Number One: DO NOT GIVE CHASE!
Though we humans know that we pursue our wild beasts only with the intent to rein them in and haul their naughty selves back home, the dogs see it something like this. "Oh, look! My favorite human has decided to join me on my Grand Adventure. How wonderful! Let's keep running!" This works out quite well for the dogs but ends poorly for the humans who an hour later find themselves a mile and half from home, chasing their dog over hill and vale.
Step Number Two: Don't Say "Come"
Over the years, I've come to agree with a Golden Rule of obedience training: I only give a command to my dog if I'm sure I can enforce it. Otherwise, I create the risk of teaching my dog that obeying my commands is an option, rather than an imperative. So even though my dogs have been quite obedient to a crisply delivered "Come" command on leash or around the house, I avoid using that word when they're enmjoying an uncontrolled rampage, and go instead with the distinctively different and generally joyful "C'mon!"
Step Number Three: Play A Little Hard To Get.
I've learned the hard way, a zillion times over, that the only way to get a runaway dog to come home is to trick them into wanting to come home. Let's face it, there's a lot to be said for running at breakneck speeds through a neighborhood full of delicious sights and scents, so this is no easy task. But here's the secret - I do what I can to make them think of me. And the way I do that is to disappear. Back into the house I go, where my absence will eventually register on the freedom-drunk brain of my escapee, and they will certainly think to look for me. I leave the front door wide open.
So even in the 4% of cases when Gracie romps off beyond the neighbors' yard, she's usually back within two minutes, chuffed with her escapade but also very curious to see where I've gotten off to. It's a marvelous solution and it almost always works.
* * * * *
Today, however, was a rare case indeed. A one percenter in which I ignored my naughty girl and busied myself inside the house, but after oh, 7 to 10 minutes, I realized that my dog still had not come back.
Now I must break the sad news that there is no reliable Step Number Four. At this point, I just wing it. And today, that looked like me standing in the middle of my front yard, calling my dog's name with forced gaiety, listening for sounds of other dogs barking (a highly reliable way to locate a dog on the loose - the others rat her out), and thinking what to do.
And then I heard it.
The subtle but unmistakable sound of a big dog galloping up the hill.
I listened to that happy commotion, growing louder all the while, for several long seconds before I actually saw her.
Finally, from the far edge of the next-door neighbors' rhododendrons, my big red dog came sprinting up the sidewalk at top speed, burned a hard right across their driveway and tore across their lawn, all wagging tail and thrilled to see me.
* * * * *
And though this last step always kills me, it is crucially important.
Final Step. Reward Your Fugitive For Coming Home.
Gracie knows the ropes. Her trajectory continued into the house as she skidded across the entry rug, slammed on her brakes as she veered into the kitchen, and slid into a perfect sit right in front of the pantry door. Ceremoniously, I opened the door, reached into her treat bowl and removed one delicious morsel.
As I handed it to her, I told her just what she wanted to hear.