by Jean Foster Akin
Ranger, our little shelter dog, has been part of the family since mid-December 2014. He is a sweet, affectionate, confident fellow that, when walking on the lead, responds to very subtle “taps” of the lead, and to very quietly uttered noises/words of approval or commands. He’s a dog that learned quickly not to fly down stairs when he was on one end of his lead and one of us was on the other. I taught him the latter early on because the prospect of being yanked down an entire flight of stairs was not on my list of fun things to do before I die.
So why couldn’t a smart dog like Ranger learn to let us know when he needed to go outside to do his business? Perhaps his first four years had been spent on a run and he never needed to “ask”? Whatever the case, he never gave us any indication at all that he had to go out. I mean NONE. I would just take him out randomly and he’d walk around and do nothing, or he’d do a Niagara Falls impersonation…but there was never any indication that he’d been about to burst like a water balloon 60 seconds before this. He never went to the door, never reacted to the word ‘out’. Nothing.
“So why not take him out every two hours and be done with it?” you ask. “You’ll end up catching him at a moment he needs to go, right?” Well, we’ve done this. For six months. I even started setting a timer for a while so I could stop work and take him out, but then he started leaping up like he was on fire when the timer rang, when the phone rang, when an email message alert pinged on the iPad. Startling! Besides, I didn’t want to set a timer to go off and inadvertently train him to do his business following the sound of a bell. Some day, there might not be a bell.
Then one day we thought we’d figured out his signal. Even if he didn’t understand our word for the commencement of his biological functions, this signal from him was what we were really after. Ranger began panting and pacing one evening, nudging me and looking extremely anxious. Eureka! Ranger’s signal to us that his bladder was full and he needed to go out!!
Nope. Once outside, he didn’t do a thing except pace and pull on the lead to get back into the house.
Ranger, we realized, is an amazing predictor of thunderstorms. Hours before the onset of a storm, we now know, he pants and paces and puts his paws and his head on our laps and wants to be close. We didn’t connect the storms to the behaviors because the behaviors began hours before the storms. We thought these behaviors meant he had to tinkle really really bad! But we were wrong: he did NOT want to go out. In our inability to sense the storm, we would run off to get his lead and we’d practically have to drag him outside…and he’d do nothing except try to get back in.
But now, June 2015, six months since this wonderful fellow shot into our house like a hot Roman candle on a horizontal trajectory, he finally reacts to the question “Out?” His eyes get wide, his ears perk up, and he gyrates his rear-end like he’s at The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro! Not only that, he actually goes to the door now to let us know he has to “go”even if we don’t ask, and he makes sure we see him there. And when he starts with the panting and pacing and we ask if he wants to go out, he does not respond with any interest. He does NOT want to go out. He senses a storm. He understands the word “out,” and now that we know he does, we don’t have to wonder and I don’t need to set timers.
This is normal stuff for everyone else, but it’s big stuff for Ranger the Shelter Dog.
Patience was the key.
[photos by JFA]