Sunday, May 8, 2016

City Dog in the woods

Debby and Trooper on the Union Mine Trail
in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
“Never let Trooper off leash in the open,” his trainer warned when she brought him to us last December. “He’s too valuable a dog to risk losing.”

This is not a problem for a highly trained service dog who lives in a suburban Chicago condo. Municipal law says he must be leashed when out and about. Good thing, because when Trooper sees another dog, he wants to rush over and play. When he sees a squirrel, he wants it.

In the wilds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, things are a bit different. We live in a little log cabin on the beach of Lake Superior. There are no other pooches (that we know of) in our woodsy immediate neighborhood, but the owls, eagles, coyotes and maybe wolves that live in the vicinity will all take a small dog.

And so this spring we had a dog pen erected in our cabin’s back yard. It’s made of green plastic-clad steel deer mesh about 700 square feet in area, with tall grass and trees at one end for privacy during his morning toilette. We leash Trooper for the short (five yard) walk from cabin door to pen gate. He does come when called, but we just can’t risk his bolting after a squirrel or chipmunk—or, worse, the resident skunk—and disappearing into the woods. He’s a terrier, and terriers have vexedly high prey drives.

In the pen he’s constantly on alert, his head high as he inhales mysterious new smells and listening to alien sounds, especially in the evening when the peepers in the swamp launch their symphony. If he spots a chipmunk in the area, he takes off for it at flank speed. (He hasn’t caught one yet, but it’s a matter of time.)

Yesterday we took a walk in the woods—the Union Mine trail in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park—and he seemed to love the experience, although he wanted to pull hither and yon off the trail, following strange scents. No heeling for him. We’ll need to work on this, but he should get used to it soon.

He has been in the lake once—he jumped into shallow water, then jumped right back out. That water’s cold, about 40 degrees.

By the end of the summer City Dog will have become Country Dog.

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