Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trying To Give Brutus His Freedom Compassionately

During these four months that we have been getting to know Brutus, there are a few big conclusions that Don and I, as well as his teacher have come to. He was most likely originally bought to be a hunting dog, was very poorly trained, failed and was thrown away. And by poorly trained, I would say abused. The biggest clues to these conclusions are the way he reacts to loud bangs, which is to literally shake and duck for cover, if there is an animal in a tree, he will stand there and guard the tree and bark, and his reaction to collars.

We have no doubt in our minds that we have given him a life that any human would love to have, but the one aspect in his life that he doesn't have is the freedom to run, and I don't mean run away, I just mean run in our yard. We have a really big yard at the lake, and for him to be able to run and catch his ball, or run up and down the yard from the lake to the house would be amazing. Don and I have done a LOT of training with him and trying to get him to respond to the word "Come". We have even hidden in different parts of the house and called him at different times, sometimes with treats and sometimes just for the good old head rub. We've consulted the experts, and the grand conclusion is that he's a bolter. When we first adopted Brutus, he didn't even know his name, and had no training, so really, we've come a long way. We're kind of at the last big thing.

We both have strong feelings against E-collars. I just haven't seen a good reason to hurt an animal to get them to perform a behavior that I want, but the more I have read, the more I have been willing to understand that sometimes, IF USED PROPERLY, they are necessary for an animals safety. With Brutus's fear of collars, our assumption was that he was already abused with an e-collar, so we consulted the Sports Dog e-collar experts for some advice. After explaining Brutus's fears, they agreed that he was most likely zapped beyond comprehension, and suggested that he only be trained with tones, and that even that be done very slowly. We started out with two weeks of only putting the collar on Brutus to go outside for fun times. Our goal was to associate the collar with "good things". It was awful. All we had to do was put the collar on, and he would shut down and shake. It has taken more than two weeks. We have had the collar for almost four weeks. He doesn't shut down anymore, but he still isn't completely comfortable with it. And, we didn't start this until ten full weeks of solid training on commands, and we aren't allowed to use tones for any commands that Brutus doesn't already understand. Keep in mind that just because he understands them doesn't necessarily mean that he'll obey them. The only command that we want is for him to listen to "come" so he can have the freedom to be loose in our yard. His life would completely open up.

So anyway, after many days of only wearing the collar with absolutely no tones, it was time to start work. The first time he bolted, we pushed the tone button, and he literally yelped and hit the ground. It was so sad. Keep in mind, this was only a sound. There was absolutely no voltage what so ever. Don even held it on his own neck to be absolutely sure. He was just that scared. It took once. Don can walk with him from our home and most of the two mile walk without holding onto the leash. If he says "heel", Brutus will either stop where he is, or come to Don's side. We aren't picky. Either is fine. His reaction has kept us from trying much more training. We know that we need to sit in the yard and let him hit the boundaries, and call him back. I'm just so scared that we'll have to hit the button and watch his reaction. As far as voltage, it has a factory preset to the number one voltage, and it is very hard to move up. It has a "Nic" button which is less than a second, and then the normal zap button which you can hold for a few seconds. Don tried that on his neck too, and said that even though it wasn't pleasant, it certainly isn't anything painful. We still don't ever want to use it.

So long story short, I hate this, but he has run away a couple times, and we are trying so hard to do the right thing for him, and for his safety. This isn't for us. We can keep him tied on his tie, and continue to move it to the front yard and back yard with us, but if you saw his face when he can run, it's like he has just been given the best bone ever made.

I wanted to make this post, because in some of the future pictures I post, you will see an orange collar on Brutus, and that is the collar that gives out the tone. I didn't want anyone thinking that we would hurt him. He means the world to us, and we will always protect him and love him with everything that we have.

To end this post on a positive note, I did let Brutus swim in the lake this morning, and he LOVED it. This was before he decided his little purple kiddie pool wasn't so bad. When I first put his little pool out, he was so scared of it that he went under my car to hide. By this afternoon when it got up into the 80s, he started checking out the little purple pool, and pretty soon he was sitting in it. Too cute. :)

I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. We're looking forward to beautiful weather, lots of friends, and Brutus is looking forward to fishing with dad. He loves standing right at the edge of the boat and staring at the geese. I keep waiting for him to jump in. I would love to hear how Don managed to get a 70lb. wet dog back on the boat!

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