Prey Drive, Play, and the Gate in Dogs

When I got Rack home from the rescue, I had a very different dog than my Lettie was.  Rack was terrified of his own shadow.

The key would be finding something he liked in order to draw him out of his shell.  I thought he’d be safe with toys, and sometimes he will play with them.  Mostly he is indifferent towards his toys.  He’ll take them to another room and herd them to a spot, then he’s done.

Rewind back to Lettie.

She was afraid of storms, most dogs are.  She also had a very strong play/prey drive.  I was able to break her of hiding in a corner and barking at the sky when Thunderstorms would approach by “Making Storm Time Play Time”.

We learned how fun a tennis ball in an enclosed space could be with an overeager McNab Border Collie cross.

I’d bounce that ball around the room whenever the thunder would clap and she would be completely distracted.  Sure, she never completely got over the storms, but many dogs just don’t.  They either have no problem with it because they’re deaf, well really, disinterested, or they’re cowering in a corner in fear.

Get that tennis ball and you may take the edge off.

But we were fortunate.  We had a big house with lots of interesting things to look at.

The third floor of that house would let her look out onto a busy feeder street to the shopping district a block away.  She’d be able to see people come and go while simply standing there in the top floor of the house on the top of the hill over the tree line.

But the Kitchen was her entertainment center.

Actually we all enjoyed that room.  It was a massive area that was originally an outdoor space, then enclosed.  It had a giant hearth that had been enclosed into a fireplace to enjoy in the cold months.  It also was huge, 22 feet by 16 or so.  With plenty of windows to look out on our green and leafy yard, there was an air about it that made you want to be there.

I spent plenty of time sitting there, watching movies on the laptop while waiting for bread to rise, while watching the goings on in the backyard.

Where you had trees, you had visitors.  Where you had visitors, you had a herding dog who wanted to herd.

Lettie would sit by that door when I was there, absolutely riveted.  Tail wagging when she saw something off in the distance, she’d guard us from all comers.

When a visitor got too close, she’d lose her mind.

The back door led out to the deck that was fenced.  It was a double glass door so it gave you a panoramic view of the yard.  Step out onto the deck, make a 90 degree turn to the right.  Take two steps and you would be off the deck.  You then were at a T Intersection.  Left to the yard, right to the driveway and the gate.

One year after the driveway was in place, I figured out that I could use a piece of the fence that we had taken away as a gate to stop Lettie from going out into the great forest of Philadelphia.  Which is to say Chestnut Hill.  It was about waist high, made of wrought iron, and had been made of vertical wires held together by horizontal bars.  Each piece was about the thickness of your smallest finger.   If we needed access, we would simply pick it up and move it out of its way.  It wasn’t held up strongly by posts because it did not need to be.

I sat in the kitchen waiting for something to happen, maybe it was bread rising, it could have been marinading dinner, or I could just have been listening to the radio then.  But we got a visitor.

Squirrel.

Or rather SQUIRREL!

Lettie didn’t like them.  They were unruly and brought disorder to the yard.  They needed to be moved on.

There needed to be a lot of chaos to re-institute order to my yard.

Lettie would attack the door and the squirrel would vanish.

After a while the squirrels became more complacent and realized that she was inside and they could get away.  That’s where I got involved.  I had the bright idea to let my Lettie out the back door and see what she’d do.

If you have ever watched a herding dog, you know that they’re an intense beast.

Lettie would vibrate at the back door, whining.

I had opened the … OH HOLY CRAP!  She blasted out the door.

Navigating the first turn, she scrabbled to make the grip on the wood.  Gaining a purchase, she had lept onto the side yard turning to the left.  Bursting into the main part of the yard she was off like a shot.

The squirrel wasn’t completely stupid, it began to run off, zigging away from its approaching threat.  By the time it made it to the far corner of the yard, the squirrel was airborne climbing up the big tree that was there and to safety.

True to form, Lettie was standing paws up on the tree.   She realized that she couldn’t get to it, so she did what any dog would do.  She marked the territory, scratched the grass, and marched back to the house with an air of “That’ll Do!”.

One day we were out near that same tree.  The Jeep was parked far back on the driveway that day so there was clearance between the house and the gate.  I could see back to the street around the car, but more importantly so could Lettie.

In came a visitor.   This particular squirrel was a more bold one.  Perhaps it had been chased up that tree before and thought that it could outrun my dog.

It was right but with a difference.

Lettie spotted the squirrel and was having nothing to do with it.   She leapt into action.  Charging the squirrel, it ran down the driveway, through the wires of the fence and down to the Jeep.   I couldn’t see it any longer.

However in the same instant that my mind realized that the squirrel was gone, I also realized that Lettie had done something colossally strange.

Running down the driveway she forgot the gate was there.  She ran headlong into the gate.

If you ever pushed your finger into a water balloon, you know they will bulge elsewhere to absorb the impact.  This was what it looked like from behind.

Lettie had slammed into that fence so hard that her head passed between the wires of the fence.   The impact of 45 pounds of dog running at nearly the speed of light had compressed her body into the fence and lifted her hind sections off the ground.

The fence didn’t have a chance.

The next thing I knew was the fence toppled over onto her.  Black dog, white feet were flailing in the air

trying to get a purchase.   I was running into the yard to her to help free her from this fence.

Silly mutt.

I lifted the fence up off the ground, Lettie’s head was crammed between the wires.   She looked up at me as if to say “Yeah, I know I screwed up, just get me outta here!”.

Grabbing onto her collar, I pulled her back through with a Pop!

Now, Lettie was a highly intelligent dog.  But as a K9 Police Officer once said to me, sure they’re smart, “But on their best day, they are still a dog”.

That is to say in my own Lettie’s case, she had to try that again the next time that she spotted a squirrel.   Same results.

Luckily that was the last time that she tried that particular stunt.   She finally learned that when the squirrel goes right, leave it be.

Silly mutt.

Now, if I could only get Rack interested in chasing something, I might have a chance at calming him down in a storm. 

Does anyone know of a good Radio Controlled Squirrel?

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