I took Zoya, our dog, running in Belgrad forest this week.
The forest is only 15-20 minutes drive away, and it’s absolutely lovely: a proper forest with trees, lake, fresh air and paths.
And many street dogs.
I normally don’t go with her there, not because of the street dogs, but more due to laziness. Much easier and more social for me to go running on my own along the only-2-minute-drive-away Bosporus route and then take Zoya for a walk in the only-5-minute-away-forest-walk-with-friends than drive 15-20 minutes to Belgrad.
But this week I was completely off schedule, so I was guilted into pulling out the big guns: Belgrad.
(And she knows it’s a “proper” forest…once I roll down the windows and she gets a whiff of the air, her whole body expands and she starts snorting like a true toro in anticipation of the big event.)
The other positive with Belgrad is that she can be off-leash while I run with her.
(I do run with her along the Bosporus, but she is on-leash then, and it interrupts the whole zen running feeling to stop at every garbage can for a sniff test.)
Now, if you have ever had a dog, you know that the “off leash” scenario requires excellent training or good liability insurance. Although we have invested in both, knowing of specifically one flaw in Zoya’s training, I also invested in a shock collar.
Now, before you start berating me, hear me out:
Zoya is a Black Russian Terrier. It was designed by the Russians who, after WWII lost a great amount of dogs, wanted to breed a dog of stable character, courageous, easy-to-train – I call them the Dog for Dummies – and able to withstand any weather Siberia could throw at them.
(Which is why when it’s -25C outside, you will find Zoya sprawled out on the snow like she’s on holiday in Rio de Janeiro.)
(Unfortunately for her, there is no -25C weather in Istanbul and snow is fleeting, if at all.)
BRTs are a combination of primarily Newfoundland, Airedale Terrier, Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, and Russian Water Dog (now extinct).
Which means to say they are BIG.
(BIG but graceful. They don’t knock into things inside the house, being very aware of where their body ends and a table begins. They are calm and great even for apartments. And even better? They don’t shed.)
Zoya on hind legs is as tall as me and weighs 125 pounds or so. Some people actually don’t recognize that she is a dog. Many think she’s a small horse, although we have also had “bear” and “gorilla” thrown at us…
(I was not too thrilled with my cute, fluffy dog with the nice ponytail being called a gorilla.)
…while others just ask “What IS that?”
Knowing she was going to be BIG, before we got her, I purchased a library of Cesar Millan books and videos so that the entire family could get educated and be a part of her training.
(The first night, the 4 of us sat and watched Video 1 of Training Your Puppy. The next night, for Video 2, there were 3 of us. The next night: 1. You can guess who the “1” was.)
My goal was to train her before she outgrew me.
I even enlisted professional training services. Natasha, our most excellent trainer, took us to parks, metro stations, apartment buildings, grocery stores, and forests. It didn’t matter if there was snow and -20 temps, we worked for 2 hours each session.
So, bottom line, Zoya was trained pretty well…
(Although I think Natasha actually was more concerned with training me than the dog, finding humans to be the more challenging student of the two.)
…except for a wee, tiny flaw that we are still working on: her over enthusiasm with other dogs. Most of the time, it’s fine. She’s social and sweet. Never growls or barks or bites at other dogs. But, on occasion, she has been known to literally bowl over some canines with her enthusiasm to meet their acquaintance.
And then there was this little, teensy incident with Benji.
It happened a few weeks ago. I was walking with a friend and her dog, and we came across some friends with their dogs. One of those dogs, Benji, is small and white. We haven’t been around Benji much because of schedule conflicts (human schedule conflicts, that is). Still, Zoya has been socialized since she was a puppy, and normally being with other dogs is no problem.
Because for some reason, when Zoya saw Benji, she perked up.
And then started charging at Benji.
You can imagine the scene: 125 pounds of big black barreling down on you.
(I thought the owner, who was standing right next to Benji, remained incredibly calm.)
(Although, it might have been the shock.)
Whether it was the impact of Zoya or a split-second decision on Benji’s part to choose the lesser of two evils, the next minute we all watched Benji tumble ass-over-appetite down the ravine that was right behind him.
Literally, the dog somersaulted backward 15 feet down a hill.
Luckily, he was fine.
The owner was incredibly gracious and understanding.
Zoya was grounded (put back on leash).
And the shock collar was ordered.
Despite my family thinking I was absolutely cruel to even think of shocking Zoya, I am here to tell you that these shock collars work! I have only had to shock Zoya twice.
(And, people, when I say “shocked,” I mean that the setting is only strong enough so that if she is laying on the floor and I would “shock” her, Zoya would glance up and look around curiously, wondering what was going on. It only gets her attention. It is not the “AHHHHHHHHH!” shock you are imagining.)
So, when I took her to Belgrad, I had the shock collar firmly secured around her neck, and the controller firmly secured in my hand. After all, I knew that we could encounter some training obstacles, such as wild dogs and other dogs with their owners.
Therefore, when we did eventually come across a pack of street dogs that I didn’t want her to “make friends” with, I was prepared. I only had to tell her to “heel” and give her a positive tone on the collar, and she stayed right with me…
(The collar has a positive tone, a negative tone, and a shock. The goal is to avoid having to use the shock button and, instead, train the dog by using the tones to help encourage the behavior you want.)
…and ditto for when we came across the couple with their small dog. Zoya was a bit more interested in that dog, and started to head toward it, much to the owners’ concern…so I hit the negative tone, called “heel” and she was back at my side.
Except that I realized at the end of the walk I had forgotten to turn her collar on.
Which means that the collar has been so effective, she is now responding to my verbal instructions only!
(And probably feeling the weight of the collar on her neck also encourages her to respond when I give her a command.)
So you know what the obvious question is, right?
Does it work on teenagers?