I Am A German Shepherd's Pull Toy
I Am A German Shepherd’s Pull Toy
Combine a sweet disposition with strong muscles and a mega dose of energy, and what do you get? You get a German shepherd dog named “Bruce” who turns an ordinary walk into something of a sled pull. I am the sled.
Problem Child Or Properly Wild?
Serious German shepherd owners might say that I have a behavioral problem on my hands. I am not so sure. I have allowed this human sled pull to evolve with a certain degree of control. On walks, I allow Bruce to lead me much of the time. I let him track the smells, probably as he was born to do. I use a long leash (about twelve feet) with a loop at one end that always stays anchored around my wrist. I have learned to coil and uncoil this leash reflexively and efficiently to compensate for the dog’s explosive lunges and stubborn pauses over areas of strong scents.
The long leash attaches to his body harness, which transfers most of the pulling force away from his neck—it is not the best harness for pulling, but it is what I have under the circumstances.
Born Free But Stuck With Me
Bruce does not have a fenced yard where he can run loose. He has a cable run approximately sixty feet long where he chases and catches tennis balls. I toss the balls carefully to prevent constricting situations that could cause injury. I learned this the hard way while tossing deflated basketballs about a year and a half ago. One day back then, Bruce reared up at a precarious angle, fell backwards, tried to recover with his powerful legs, and broke his ankle. He now has a plate in his ankle to the tune of $1,400 dollars that caused financial drain.
Be very careful about throwing balls to strong dogs on cable runs. Done sloppily and carelessly, both you and the dog can get hurt. Here are some things that might happen:
- The dog might get tangled up and fall, especially if the length of his connecting leash is wrong.
- The dog might slam his leash around his throat too hard while trying to chase a ball that escapes outside the cable run area.
- The leash attaching the dog to the cable might slam into your face and head, knocking you down and injuring your neck.
Also worth mentioning here is the fact that tennis balls dull a German shepherd’s (or any dog’s) sharpest front teeth (canines). Dull canines are a compromise I have made to give Bruce something highly fulfilling to do—he loves chasing and catching those little fuzzy orbs—without them he would have no equivalent thrill under the circumstances.
All this goes to explain why I allow Bruce to be a pulling, walking dog. As a working breed, he needs to work. The ideal situation does not exist for him, so I have made compromises and creative decisions that stray from cherished rules of dog training. I am NOT a dog trainer—I am a person in an unexpected relationship with an animal whose natural exuberance I respect.
Bruce pulls on a restrictive leash because this is what he does by nature. He catches balls on a restrictive line because he cannot chase prey in the open.
This summer (2009), I cut trails into a nearby easement of woods, using handheld yard tools—I did this for the dog as much as for myself. Now I can walk him into a semblance of the wild on any day of the week. In these woods, on leash, he moves more slowly, because there is more for him to explore, and less expanse for him to bolt into.
I sometimes guide Bruce to pull me through my neighborhood streets, where there are no sidewalks or adequate clearances for walking. Thankfully, at times of the day when I usually do this, the streets are relatively untraveled. I can hold him in a straight line along curbsides much of the time, out front ahead of me like a cart-pulling horse—he likes this, and he cannot wait to get started.
A short greenway halfway along our route allows me to let him roam on a longer leash near a creek side—he happily pulls me as his friendly load. Our entire route on these outings measures about two miles.
In Place Of Sheep—Pan!
Bruce does not have sheep to herd or other dogs to play with regularly. He spends a good portion of most days inside by himself, so he needs inside activities too. He is always primed to play when people are in his company.
Under these circumstances, he has developed an interesting habit over his three and a half years—he plays with a metal water pan with the enthusiasm of a drug addict. He pushes the pan (inverted, like a hockey puck) using his snout, as he barks at it in motion across the carpet. He is obnoxious and loud while doing this. Sometimes I join in—he demands it—to kick the pan so he can chase it faster. In his canine mind, pan is life, pan is meaning, pan is purpose for being. As I said, he is addicted to it. Pan is Bruce’s comPANion.
D-O-G-s As G-O-D-s ?!
Perhaps by now, dog experts are shaking their heads in dismay. Let them not forget, however, that “dog” spelled backwards is “god”. As such, maybe humans sometimes need to look at things from a dog’s point of view.
Who are we frail, bipedal locomotors to expect the superior physical fitness of dogs to fit inside human cadences and human configurations? Maybe we are lucky that these beasts yield to us at all.
Evolved from wilder stock, with endurance to cover twenty or more miles a day, for days on end, these beasts maybe need not always conform to perfect training. This logic (or illogic) has guided (or deluded) me in keeping Bruce a little rough around the edges.
The Path Less Chosen
I would not advise other dog owners to let their dogs get away with what I let Bruce get away with. I have to say this to be politically correct.
I admit that Bruce is a bit of a brat. He is impatient in his exuberance to get started playing. He complains. He is loud at inappropriate times. He has domineering tendencies around some other dogs (not vicious, but humping). He insists on a large share of attention.
He is also gregariously friendly. He likes most people in an open situation away from the house. He is handsome. He is consistent and loyal.
If he is any indication of the breed’s temperament, then I have to say that German shepherds definitely are not for everybody. Anybody considering one as a pet or as a companion should have the time, energy, patience, and money (training, vet bills, toys, food, fence) to accommodate this breed’s, natural, energetic needs.