We recently decided to head out early for our regular hike with the dogs. As we are heading outside our property, we hear a pack of coyotes that have taken “residence” not too far from us. It is hard to know exactly where they are because the canyons around us make the sound bounce.
John suggests we wait to take our walk. Meeting one coyote is one thing, meeting a pack of an unknown amount is quite another. I look at the dogs and they are super excited to take their walk. I tell John, let’s go and have the dogs on-leashes.
We begin our walk and up the steep hill with the dogs on-leash as they are perhaps wondering what is up with that. We make it up the hill where visibility to the rest of the ridges in now possible.
A while back, I saw a pack of about 8 coyotes awaiting a storm under a tree. Wow! What a sight. While I saw them, it appeared that perhaps they did not see me as none of them seemed to acknowledge my existence.
Once on the ridge, we scout the area as we can still hear them yipping, yet none in sight. We remove the leashes and we proceed to walk on the ridge away from the coyotes or at least where we think the coyotes are not. I tell John that we should not drop into the wash as we normally do, but to remain on the ridge for the walk. Clearly this allows us to scan the area for a coyote versus being on the wash which makes me also feel more vulnerable.
Today, we are also managing the dogs more closely. I ask them to wait until we close the distance between them. I recall them back and set them off again to do their thing.
Once we reached our destination and it’s time to head back, John surprises me by suggesting that we put them again on leashes. Okay, I say thinking that a bit of loose leash walking is not a bad thing either. By now, both dogs are a bit tired and somewhat hot.
Situations like this make me think about the importance of being flexible with our routines when it comes to keeping our dogs safe. Usually this walk means our dogs are loose as they explore an area that is both familiar to them and us, but on occasions like today, where the coyotes are in such close proximity, keeping them on a leash was the right thing to do.
Lots of folks would rather see their dog run free (I agree nothing more fun for both parties) than manage their dog carefully when needed. I have come across this line of thinking many times with some of my clients. Some have even confessed to me that if their dog runs away and gets lost well, that is their karma. Yep, I listen in disbelief!
I see it differently. I am all for fun and games but I take my dogs well-being (and that of my client’s dogs when they are left in my care) with utmost seriousness. They do depend on us many times to keep them safe.
Here is an interesting example: In Yellowstone National Park, wolves that are hit by a car will be brought in to the clinic to mend, but a wolf that is perhaps injured by natural causes would not. I found this bit interesting and surmised that being hit by a car is of course very unfortunate and clearly not part of the natural environment of wild animals such as the wolves packs at the park.
Just like the wolves are helped when hit by a car, I think the reverse should apply to our dogs: They need to be cared for and managed appropriately depending on the behavior of the particular dog. Will the dog come back pronto when called? Is he old and not so keen on taking after wildlife in hot pursuit? The particular environment should also be considerate: What is potentially around us? A heavy-trafficked road? On and off-leash areas next to each other? What kind of wildlife is around? And even the time of day.
In my case, our walks are smack against Santa Fe National Forest with the possibility of encountering wildlife. Not too long ago, John and the dogs were in very close proximity to an elk; and as John later described the encounter, the elk took off running away from our dogs and almost ran into him as he admired the size of the animal just before he made a rushed turn away from John.
My advice to folks is to pay attention to the circumstances around them in order to keep their dogs safe. Our dogs do depend on us many times to do just that. Be flexible with your management routine so that everyone can have fun while remaining safe. Your dog will thank you and I do too.