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Training dogs takes repetition, a soft temper, and a steady hand

WORTHINGTON -- As a dog owner of the Three Musketeers -- Decoy, Ace and Gunner (my three black labs) -- it makes me wonder what I would do if something happened to them as a result of my negligence.

I never allow them to run at large in any situation, except while hunting, and in town they are almost always on a leash unless they are in my fenced backyard. There are exceptions, but they are very rare and I am always watching to insure their safety.

When I see a dog running free I often wonder who the owner is and if they are out looking for the dog. Unfortunately, too many dogs are left to roam and end up in all sorts of trouble. A dog riding in the back of an open truck bed at 60 mph is either really smart or the owner really doesn't care a whole lot about them.

When I was 19 or 20 years old I made the same mistake of letting my 6-month old Chesapeake Bay retriever ride in the back of my 1985 Mazda pickup. I thought that it was really macho until he decided that it would be more fun to run alongside and bailed out at about 30 mph. I got really lucky that it resulted in only minor injuries. That experience changed my attitude and the act has never been repeated. I guess that it takes everybody a different length of time to reach this point, as I still see dogs unrestrained and on the loose in trucks, and elsewhere.

Dogs running in town create their own set of problems, but the subject matter today concerns dogs running at large in the countryside. Ninety-nine percent of my dog's country cousins are great companions and model citizens. It's the one percent that really makes life difficult for the rest. I received a call the other day from an area conservation officer who brought me up to date on some rule changes regarding dogs that pursue deer and other wildlife.

Dogs chasing and killing deer is not a common problem in our area, but a few instances do occur. In the past, if your dog was seen chasing a deer it was subject to being killed by a conservation officer at any time of the year. Common citizens were also allowed to kill the animal but only between Jan. 1 and July 14. The date restriction seems really silly to me. What difference does the day of the year make? The owner could also be ticketed for a petty misdemeanor and fined up to $132. The new rules, effective Jan. 1, can still result in the animal being killed or -- in less serious situations -- the owner being subjected to a civil citation with fines ranging for $100-$500.

I cannot think of anything more devastating than to have a dog killed because it was allowed to roam free and ended up chasing a deer. A dog has a natural instinct to give chase and this natural instinct cannot be faulted in the dog. When my friend, Thad Lambert, trains retrievers for hire at Round Lake Kennels, every dog that comes through the program has to be taught that chasing any animal with fur is not the proper thing to do. Virtually every dog will give it a try at first, but soon realizes their job duties lie elsewhere. It doesn't matter whether it's a rabbit, deer or other mammal -- most dogs just can't help themselves. It is up to the owner to teach them what they need to know to stay out of trouble.

I have always said that if you have a fat dog it's not the dog's fault, it's the owner's fault. The same can be said if your dog chases deer or other wildlife. The owner needs to educate their dog to know better. I have never been in a situation where I witnessed a dog doing damage of this type and hope that I never do. I keep the phone number of the Turn in Poachers line in my cell phone and would use that as my solution in the event I did see a problem. That number is 1-800-652-9093. I keep very close tabs on the Three Musketeers and hope that they are never hurt or killed as a result of something that I did, or even something that I should have done and didn't.

Chasing deer is more likely to get your dog killed by a car as it crosses a roadway than from any other cause related to chasing game. I once watched a dog survive a near-miss with a Chevy Impala while hunting in northwest Iowa. The dog ran 1 1/2 miles before it finally gave up the chase. It scared everyone who was there and really took off the polish on that day's hunt. As for the Three Musketeers, I have no fear that chasing deer will ever cause them trouble. I am quite sure by now that a deer is the very last thing that they would ever pursue. As a responsible dog owner you should try hard to make sure that your dogs are in the same category.

Training dogs takes a repetition, a soft temper and a steady hand. The deer/dog lesson is just one of many that your canine friend will need to learn in order to be a good citizen.