Monday, July 30, 2012

Dog Training and the Rocks of Solitude

During our first month in Scotland, we had several terrifying ‘incidents' with our dog Bailey. For a while there, our seemingly well trained dog would suddenly bolt during an off leash forest walk, while we dashed through an unknown and endless forest calling her name at the top of our lungs. There were a few times when I devastatingly resigned myself to the fact that I would never see her freckled snout again.
Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided to let her off leash in a dog park where there were only a few openings in the gate. While I manned the escape routes, Bailey explored the other corner of the park. Suddenly a sea bird swooped in and Bailey was off on a chase. The park fence was no match for her, and from 200 yards away I watched her wiggle her way underneath, not responding to any of my commands for her to stop what she was doing immediately and come back to me this instant.

Once she was out of the park, it was just an easy hop over a stone wall before she was chasing birds all over the Hazlehead golf course. Since I couldn’t wiggle under the fence I had to run around the entire length of the park before scraping the majority of my leg skin off by hopping the same stone fence to the golf course. I then had to run onto the green where people were putting so that I could grab my apparently feral dog and re-leash her.

I was mortified. When I got home with her I cried from frustration. I just didn’t understand why my intelligent and well trained buddy refused to listen to me in off leash situations. Why she would always choose a bird chase over the call of her Mom. I prayed for God to show me a way to get through to her so that we could both enjoy what Scotland had to offer.
For the past few weeks I have worked diligently with her on our runs. I bribe her to stay close with tasty treats and praise her constantly. I feel like I know her now better than I ever have and I’ve made giant strides in my ability to communicate with her. So when our friends Ryan and Jill asked us to bring her along for a hike, I had confidence that she would be a perfect angel somewhat obedient. 
Saturday afternoon we headed down to the town of Edzell with Ryan, Jill and their puppy Angus, and our new friends Luke and Debbie to hike Rocks of Solitude River Circuit. At first Bailey did well, running wild through the woods with her buddy Angus, but always coming back when she was called. The hiking trail we were following was a riverside path following the North Esk. The path rose and fell, sometimes revealing a steep drop into the river.
Well, while dashing through the woods, Bailey couldn’t put her brakes on fast enough and plummeted several feet into the running water. For about 2 minutes, she was trapped in the river since where she fell was way too steep for her to climb back out. Eventually, Jonathan carefully cllimbed down the gorge to assist her back up. While she quickly ran off and began playing again, I continued to have heart palpitations for the next hour or so.
I’m almost glad that she fell off at that point rather than a half mile up the trail where her survival from such heights would have been unlikely. I initially thought she learned her lesson, but her fall didn’t stop her from trying to jump over a bridge while I was taking pictures of the river’s scenery. I didn’t realize she was possibly suicidal.
Needless to say, she was promptly put back on her leash, and I even pulled out her old enemy, the pinch collar, to make sure she behaved herself. Once I stopped stressing about Bailey’s suicide watch, I was able to relax (to an extent) and enjoy the scenery and the company.
Every time we go out walking, I fall more and more in love with this country. It’s a never-ending discovery of beautiful landscapes and rich history. In fact, while trudging through the forest, we stumbled upon some castle ruins.
Seriously, this place never ceases to amaze me.

After walking about 8 miles, we decided to stop for some dinner in Stonehaven. I was glad for Aberdeen newbies Debbie and Luke to get a chance to see this picturesque harbor, get to try some of the best fish and chips in Scotland, and of course, polish off dinner with some heavenly sticky toffee pudding.

So other than the two minutes when my dog was lost in a river gorge, I’d say the day was pretty successful. I was so worn out from the stress, excitement, and exercise that I went to bed at 8:30 PM. Okay, so maybe it was more like 8. And maybe I slept until 8 AM. Okay maybe it was more like 8:30. Sometimes a girl just needs 12 hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, my ‘sleeping in’ caused me to miss out on another hiking group this weekend, but fortunately it gave me the chance to polish up a bit of Bailey’s training during a mid-morning jog. I’m happy to announce that we had a major breakthrough.
Usually I just let her off leash in certain well contained areas where she is familiar with her boundaries, but on Sunday I decided to experiment and let her off leash while I jogged our normal route. I am so proud to brag that my buddy stayed right beside me the entire jog. I mean, right by my side. I mean, somebody even commented on what a good dog she was. I mean, when I told Jonathan about it, he called me a liar.

I’ve been working so hard on getting her to stay next to me during our forest runs and I just can’t wait to keep training her in this direction. The first step is training her on trails she is familiar with, but my ultimate goal is to be able to take her to new places and still keep her close by. It will take some work, but I am so grateful to be a ‘stay-at-home-mom’ so that I can work with her every day. Scotland is our oyster, and I sure would love to explore it with my buddy by my side, rather than 10 feet below in a river. Or lost in the woods. Or running wild on an upscale golf course. Is that too much to ask?


  1. You certainly live in a beautiful place for hiking!
    A couple of months ago I moved from one village to another, but even that small move was enough to change my dog's behavior as well! He has lost his 'off the leash' privileges with me for the moment, but my husband will still let him off when he's walking him. If he wants to spend thirty minutes chasing all around the village on a hot day after the dog, well that's his business. Me, I prefer to keep the dog right at my side until I'm certain he has finally settled in and gotten used to his surroundings :)
    And welcome to expat life! I spotted you over on Expatwomen and thought I'd pop over and say hello... Hi!

    1. I'm glad you stumbled upon my blog! I'll definitely be using yours as a resource since France is currently my biggest travel crush:)
      Both of our dogs have required quite a bit of remedial training, especially since they went from living in downtown Houston to being able to romp off leash in Scottish forests. It's a hard feat to train them to come back to me when they could be chasing a rabbit instead:)

  2. Great post, Laine! I borrowed some of your pics! I know Bailey girl has it in her and she'll be that perfect pup! Your hard work will pay off!

  3. I'm so proud of your leaps and strides, but what heartache! I know Bailey's not suicidal; she's way too happy and loved for all that. Scotland must have her so freakn' excited, she just can't handle it! Again, gorgeous pics. Sigh. I can't believe that is your home!!!