Bylaw Shmylaw

Here’s are some circumstances under which I understand the no off-leash bylaws in our public parks:

-If your dog is not under your control, does not come when he is called, is threatening or scaring others.


Actually, that’s all.

Otherwise, what’s the big deal? I really don’t get it.

I live next to a fenced in dog park that is designated as an off-leash area. It is a gravel floor, and it’s a great spot to take Jimmy to interact with other dogs. But a) the hours that it is open are totally random (Sundays and Mondays 10-12 then 3-9pm, Tuesdays-Saturdays 8-12 then 3-9pm) And you know, sometimes I need to get my dog running before 10am on a Sunday or Monday…because dogs don’t care what the bylaws are.

b) Sometimes that dog park has NO DOGS in it, and that is supremely boring for everybody.

c) My dog doesn’t share his toys, and if there is a toy and a dog in the park, I gotta go.

d) If my dog needs to run, and the dog park has been a bust, the best way to get that to happen is if I throw his chuck it ball (often named his crack ball- ask Rob Ford, he’ll know what I mean). This is an activity that is so all-consuming for Jimmy that he does not see, hear or care about anything other than his chuck it ball. He will run after it like a maniac across a distance that is easily 3 times as large as the fenced in dog park, and he’ll do that happily for a good 20 minutes before I have to tell him to stop or he’ll die of exhaustion.

Today was one of these such occasions: No dogs in the park to play with. We gave it a shot.  We went in and we wondered around for about 15 minutes. During this time a lady entered the park without a dog, which irritated Jimmy. His hackles went up and he started to run towards her. I gave him a zap and told him to come to me, and he did. A small skittish dog entered the park- I thought it was a puppy, which is one of Jimmy’s “bad dog triggers”, so I kept him close to me and walked the opposite end of the park, giving him a bit of a buzz or shock if he started to wander away. He stayed close, he heeled with me right up to the owner and his dog, and gently said hi. The owner and his dog left the park without incident.

So, given that there was nothing happening in the park to entertain/exercise Jimmy, and given that he had proven that he was under my control off leash, I took the chuck it out, and away we went.

I threw the ball for him for about 15 minutes, and at around the end of 15 minutes a man and his 10ish year old son walked past. They seemed to be looking towards me and Jimmy and smiling. I carried on. The father and son changed directions and started walking towards Jimmy- so I called him over and kept him distracted because frankly even if they did want to pat him, Jimmy was so high on chuck-it cocaine that he wasn’t going to let it happen. Then the unimaginable happened- the father pointed to what seemed to be the sky for a long time as he walked away from me. I thought he was showing his son something, and so I carried on. It turns out, that super vague passive-aggressive signal was intended for me.

“The off-leash park is that way ma’am.” he yelled.

What? Seriously?

“I see it.” I have my reasons and nobody is getting hurt here, what’s the problem?

“I’m calling animal control”.


Nothing, off he went with his pride in his chest.

What makes me so mad about this?

Is it that he didn’t talk to me and give me the benefit of the doubt?

Is it that he acted like a jackass in front of his son?

Is it that he fooled me by seeming like a nice neighbourly person?

Is it all of the above?


Dammit, my dog was actually being good. And if the mayor of Toronto can run this city high on cocaine, why can’t my dog chase his crack ball in peace too?

Chuck-it-caine (Like cocaine, except for dogs)

It’s been a while since my last Jimmy update:

Jimmy has made lots of progress with his chuck-it ball addiction.  The e-collar has helped enormously with his “drop” command- even though he keeps his snout damn close to the ball afterwards just in case he’s not ready to give it up.  With the help of this handy tool, he has played fetch amongst other dogs, and he hasn’t even tried to kill any of them.  

Today I’m trying an experiment.  I put it out amongst his ordinary toys in the hopes of making it “less special”.  Often this will give me just a few more minutes to watch a movie, finish a phone call etc., without him constantly pushing his head under my hand for attention.  Usually what happens when he gets the ball is that, in his joy and rapture, he gnaws on it until it’s coated in so much slobber that it makes a totally revolting squishing sound that satisfies some deep part of his soul.  Today, however, he has been laying down near, but not with the chuck-it for the better part of 2 hours.  Staring at it, and possibly drooling.  Is this withdrawal?  Is he having a stroke?  What a strange beast.


Jimmy’s big rebellion

Jimmy's big rebellion

There are not many dog owners, I believe, who would come home to this and think “what a good dog!!”, but that’s what I thought! Look at all the other things he could have chosen to do:
-Not shred, but instead swallow the napkin
-Eat the socks that are in the bag (as he has done before)
-Eat/shred the laptop charger plugged into the wall
-Gnaw on the yummy wooden chair

But instead, my good boy merely shredded a napkin. Awww. (Now stop chasing deer, you doorknob!)

The Big Chase

Well, it’s true, Jimmy’s obedience has been on an upswing lately.  Fellow dog walkers at our local park have commented on it, I’ve noticed it, in general, this beast is simmering down.  Or maybe the summer “heat” (it’s barely been 20 degrees on most days, but still) is what’s simmering him.  Either way, I was curious to see how Jimmy would fare at the family cottage this year.

The challenge of the family cottage is twofold. #1- There is no gate surrounding the property, which leaves Jimmy to bolt quite freely, should he chose to do so and #2- When brought into the wild, with scents and sounds bombarding him in all directions, Jimmy becomes the hound he always wanted to be.

So I was on my toes this weekend because you may have guessed that I have learned these dangers from experience.  Last summer Jimmy ran away so fast we didn’t even see him go.  One minute he was hanging out in the water, my brother walked in front of him, and the next minute he was gone, not a ripple to show he’d even been there.  After some frantic driving around we found Jimmy being escorted by a kind neighbour who had found him chewing on his dog’s bone several cottages down.  Also last summer my father likes to tell of a time when a fox crossed the road just as he was walking with Jimmy and Maggie (my parent’s golden retriever, and Jimmy’s BFF).  I should rephrase this, the fox didn’t cross the road- it stopped and had a seat in the middle of it.  The two dogs, facing this saucy little fox, allegedly got so wound up that they pulled my father down the hill as if he was water skiing, until Jimmy (of course it would have been Jimmy) broke loose and gave the fox a run for its money.  Jimmy was gone for about half an hour.

Okay, you get the point.  

But a lot has changed since last year.  With the shock collar and all of the training we have done, Jimmy is much more reliable.  Upon arriving at the cottage I did what I *think* qualifies as perimeter training.  I walked Jimmy around the perimeter of the property once without any commands or corrections.  Then I walked around a second time and each time he crossed the line onto the road, I shocked him.  After a couple of times, Jimmy wanted nothing to do with the road.  Perfect.

I was still hesitant to let him off leash- but this lasted about 1 hour.  I caved and let him off to chase sticks in the lake.  It felt inhumane to deny him that basic doggy pleasure!  He loved it. And, when he started to lose interest, I tied him up.  No problem.  

Maggie is a neurotic dog herself, and she will only poop off-leash and off-property.  So twice a day, my dad takes her to a nearby abandoned farmer’s field.  Maggie also will not go anywhere that Jimmy does not go, and so I had to come with.  Maggie, once off-leash is a party animal.  She bounds around like a maniac, and then charges at Jimmy trying to egg him on.  Well, I’m not going to let him just get picked on like that!  So I let him off in the field.  The two of them had synchronized poops among the wildflowers.  It was beautiful.  Or something.  After a little bit of running around, I brought Jimmy close and did a bit of ‘heel’ work off-leash- he aced it- then I put him back on leash, and we all went back to the cottage.  No problem.

Repeat both of these successes the next day.  

(Oh also, Jimmy last year was *really* into chasing cars- or at least lunging at them with terrifying strength.  This year, nada.  Amazing.)

Who wants to guess how this story ends?

You can take the dog out of the hound but you can’t take the hound out of the dog?  

What I’m trying to say is, all was well and good, and then Jimmy saw a deer.  

I saw Maggie and Jimmy joyfully bound over the hill, and I, thinking nothing of it, laughed.  Oh my ignorance.  I laughed at their adorable happiness.  And then, reaching the top of the hill myself, I saw what must have been deer #2 staring me blankly in the eyes, then its bushy tail as it lept into the trees.  Jimmy and Maggie, on the trail of deer #1 had entered a different patch of trees.  And that was the last I saw of Jimmy for roughly two hours.

What about the shock collar, you ask?  Yeah, what about the shock collar.  I used every function that piece of equipment has- I vibrated, I shocked high, I shocked low, I shocked fast, I shocked slow.  I whistled, I yelled- hell after an hour, and thinking he was lost out in the woods, I even peed on the grass (what, he’s a hound, it might have helped!)  My dad stationed himself in the field with a treat and a bear whistle, and blew every 5 minutes.  In the end, I opened up his can of dog food and started driving up and down the road chucking kibble as I went.  Whether it was my elegant “marking”, my dad’s whistle, the scent of dinner on the road, or simply Jimmy’s fatigue, something brought him out of the trees, nose high, and covered in swamp mud.  

I should have been happy to see him, but I’m going to tell you right now, I am still mad at that little beast.  The worst part is that I can’t ever explain to him why.  You can’t scold a dog for coming home.  I wish I could ask him what he did out there…what happened to that poor deer?  Did you have fun Jimmy?  Was it worth it?  Will you do that every single time you see wildlife?  Can I ever trust you?  

But in the end, he’s just lying on his bed, curled up and dreaming…of what I’ll never know.

Things I have said in public to my dog that make me seem crazy

Alternate title: Maybe I am crazy.

  • While he is attacking a dog for no reason: “No!  That’s your friend!”
  • After a cricket flew into my face, I freaked out, and then Jimmy got spooked and barked at the man behind us “No, no, you are confused.  First it was the beetle, you just think it is the man.”

I can’t think of any other right now, but I know that there are many.  To be continued.

A Day in The Life

It’s been a while since my last post.  It’s also been a while since I put a $5 in Jimmy’s Bad Day Jar.  In fact, it’s been nearly 2 weeks (knock on wood) since he lunged towards a human being walking by on the sidewalk.

I’m still not sure why he’s had a good week.  I am hesitant to take any credit for training his behaviours away since I have been working at this since day one, and it has not eliminated his demons.  I am actually hesitant to give any rational explanation for why he might be good lately, and this is largely because I cannot give any rational explanation for why he might be bad when he is bad.  With Jimmy, every day is a test, and if I’m lucky, he passes.

I must say that one thing has changed since May 1st: I have been using an Easy Walk harness on him for his walks.  Jimmy hates it, of course, and runs from me when I take it out, even though it symbolizes the start of the best hour of his day…but despite this, I have found it to be incredibly helpful.  The trainer I had been working intensely with when I started using the shock collar recommended that I stop using the gentle leader (a collar that goes around the nose and neck) because it was a crutch.  He had Jimmy walking beautifully on a regular flat training collar (it was miraculous).  But the thing is, I am not that trainer. That trainer had special powers.  When Jimmy wants to pull me there is nothing that flat collar can do to hold him back.   So for me, the solution is: harness.

Every day I put on the harness, I put on the shock collar, I pack a bag with a muzzle and 2 fancy “emergency” balls and a roll of poop bags, and we head out for our walks.  Every day I scan the sidewalks and cross when there are dogs (or people) on their way.  When we enter the dog park, I check for toys before I let him off leash without a muzzle.  When a puppy enters the park, I call Jimmy over and wait, nervously, for him to calm down.  In fact, every time the gate swings open, my eyes dart towards it as fast as his, and I wait anxiously to see if he will charge happily or angrily, finger on the trigger of the shock remote…and you know, it sounds exhausting to be so constantly alert, but maybe I’m getting used to it.

I don’t have any comical tales to tell today, and no major philosophies to share.  I just thought I’d give you all a little update with my morning coffee that lately Mr. Stewart is having a pretty wonderful life.  To be continued…Image


Jimmy’s big day

Jimmy's big day

After seeing Jimmy happily snooze all over the apartment this afternoon, I decided to leave him out of his crate for a trial-run this evening. He passed! Except that when I came home, he was in his crate! Is that good or does that mean he’ll always need that big old clunker?

The Chuck-It Rolls Away

The Chuck-It ball is a very special ball.  It is a bright orange rubber ball with a blue trim, and if you ask me and several other dog owners, we will tell you that the inside of this ball is filled with crack cocaine.  For whatever reason, most dogs, when given this ball, will lose their minds.  They will dissolve from a well behaved, mildly obedient mutt, to a drooling, dopey, skittish, paranoid, cross-eyed beast.  I realize that was a lot of adjectives.  They were all necessary.

Jimmy and the Chuck-It go way back.  I have spent a good chunk of our time together on the look-out for other dogs with Chuck-Its, making sure that Jimmy does not have the opportunity to even covet this evil ball.  On more than one occasion, Jimmy outsmarted me, and managed to steal another dog’s Chuck-It.  On these occasions, it was not uncommon for me to be found crouched down in the middle of the park, trying not to bawl my face off because I really had to pee, or go to work, or have a damn cup of coffee, and it had been 45 minutes since Jimmy would not let me come more than 3 feet close to him.  You see, all Jimmy wants in life is to chew on a Chuck-It ball for multiple hours at a time.  He wants this more than he wants your fancy liver treats, you love, your shelter or your affection.  I have tried giving him all these things, I’ve even tried “leaving the park” to see if he’ll follow, and no.  He won’t.  Once, he had been playing the keep-away game with me for nearly half an hour, when a school baseball team started to load on to the bases of the baseball diamond where Jimmy had settled in for a chew…he did not budge.

So…now we have 3 Chuck-Its, and I can’t quite decide if I should lay them all out on the floor and just let him figure out that they are JUST RUBBER BALLS- or never let him see them ever again in his life.  Today I wanted a nap.  Jimmy wanted to play.  So I took out a Chuck-It and I bought myself one hour.  I could hear the gross suction of his slobber on the rubber even through my light and lucid dreams.  When it came time to walk him, I figured, what the hell, I’ll just let him carry it along.  So, off we went onto the front porch.  I turned to lock the door, and commanded Jimmy to sit, as I always do when we prepare to go down the steps, when, in a flash, Jimmy dropped the ball!  The ball bounced down the steps, and Jimmy, obediently, but desperately sat and watched while a car, miraculously timed, drove past and struck the ball causing it to bounce from curb to curb like a ping-pong and then rapidly speed its way to the end of the street and disappear.  The end of my street is Christie Street- and it’s at the top of one of Toronto’s tallest hills.  There was a whimper and the sound of a dog’s heart breaking.

We stood in shock for just a moment, and then the hunt began.  I felt like the mother of a 3 year old who lost his blankie, a boy whose life would never be the same without it.  But in this case it was much more entertaining than having a child who’d lost his blankie, because Jimmy wasn’t wailing his woes every step of the way, and I was quite curious as to where this ball might have rolled!  It’s a good 10 minute walk to where the hill dips under a bridge, and when the ball was not there, I started thinking of the adventures of Corduroy the bear.  I pictured Jimmy’s Chuck-It rolling aimlessly around town- past awe-struck children and curious cats, maybe being picked up by a terrier and brought to a new home where a new owner would add it to their own pile of stolen Chuck-It’s and cluck their tongues in exasperation, just as I have done so many times.  Imagine my surprise when, as cleared the top of the hill on our way back, there it was across the road, beaming bright in the sun, nestled against the curb of our very own street!  “There’s your ball!” I exclaimed to Jimmy, whose ears and eyes perked up with delight.  He looked around in excitement, picked up a stick and dropped it with disgust after realizing it was certainly NOT his ball.  We crossed the street and I pointed to it and said “There it is Jimmy!”  He pounced on the ball!  Reunited at last!  Oh the happiness- and I was happy too!  Why not.  Our quest was a success!  What joy!

Jimmy paraded his beloved ball around the block and and through the park in a state of unparalleled glee.

Now we are home, and I’ve put the ball away because there’s glee, and there is obsession, and with Jimmy it’s a pretty fine line.  Jimmy is pacing in front of me, whining/groaning in frustration.  (He’s been doing this for the better part of 20 minutes now.)  I’ve spoiled his fun.  He just pawed at the front door- that must be where I put it- outside!

So I ask you, dear readers.  Should I give the dog his damned ball?