As many of you know, I have a golden retriever Jaden who is a bit over 3 years old. Jaden is an extremely energetic puppy with tremendous self confidence, a thick skin, adores meeting people and has a mind of his own. He has brought out sides in me that I did not know about and I am constantly learning new things with him. I love him to bits but he does keep me very occupied and can be quite a challenge.
He is getting a bit calmer with age but we have one major problem with him and we haven’t found a solution yet. Jaden cannot walk off leash for very long, especially when there are distractions like rabbits, deer or pheasants around. So letting him run free in the fields is something that is not quite possible yet. Since Jaden is a very strong dog (he weighs between 40-42kgs), it is quite a challenge for me to control him when he decides to use all his strength to get what he wants, which can be anything from greeting someone he knows or wants to get to know to running behind pheasants and rabbits. A year and half ago, I injured my shoulder badly when I fell with him and had to be operated on last summer. The shoulder is perfectly fine now but the neck and back are still hurting and I am not allowed to take him to puppy school yet. Which means that all walks with Jaden have to be on leash.
Walking with Jaden in snowy landscapes can be a special challenge since he can see rabbits and deer clearly since the fields are bare. During the past fortnight we have lost him twice and fortunately Bernd and I were out walking with him together both the times.
The first time was when I was training him to walk beside me without a leash for a short distance. I had started training this with him but he was not allowed to go very far, maximum 5 meters away and then he had to come back and walk next to me. Normally that has worked very well so that day I decided to let him go a bit further than 5 meters. We were walking along the dam (our usual path) when suddenly he got distracted by a pheasant in the bush. And off he went behind the pheasant, charging into the fields along the dam. We assumed that he would come back, which he normally does, but before we knew it he was off deeper into the fields. Bernd climbed down from the dam to call him but he was nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately for us dusk was falling and since Jaden is white and the fields were full of snow, visibility wasn’t too good. We started walking back and forth calling out to him but couldn’t see a thing. We must have been looking for him for at least half an hour and were getting quite hoarse calling out his name. We couldn’t imagine that he’d gone very far and decided to split and go in opposite directions. Interestingly I wasn’t very worried although I was well aware that darkness was falling quickly and Jaden did not have his night collar on (the night collar glows). That is when I heard a small still voice inside me telling me to go in a direction that I normally wouldn’t have taken. I was calling out his name intermittently and suddenly saw a “huge white form” standing on the side of the road in the fields looking at me. It was Jaden. He immediately came to me and sat in front of me very obediently. I grabbed him by the collar, put on his leash and then called Bernd on his mobile to let him know I had found Jaden. We were really fortunate that it wasn’t too cold that evening and that we found him so soon.
The second time that he ran off was a few days ago. We were out early afternoon with him, temperatures were way below minus, there were a number of rabbits and deer out in the
fields. Jaden was completely distracted by them, got tired of being obedient and listening to Bernd who had him on the long retractable 10m dog leash. So in a moment when Bernd had loosened his grip a bit he took full advantage, gave it his all and pulled. Bernd had to let the leash go, otherwise he might have fallen or yanked his shoulder, and Jaden charged off into the fields behind a rabbit with Bernd chasing behind him and yelling at him to “stop”. Of course he didn’t listen, he was too distracted by the rabbits. One would have thought that Jaden would slow down since we had already been out for about an hour and he had been a bit tired. We were wrong. The leash dangling behind him was no hinderance and before long Bernd lost sight of him. We must have spent a good 40-50 minutes searching all over the fields for him (the area around where we live has vast spaces of farming land). It was slowly getting dark, it was getting foggy and Bernd only had his sunglasses with him (I had already taken off mine). This time I was pretty convinced that we wouldn’t find him since we had been out in the icy cold temperatures for over 90 minutes and slowly I couldn’t feel my fingers any more. I just kept praying that he shouldn’t be harmed, he shouldn’t cause any harm (there are country roads around the fields) and that somehow he should come back.
And then I heard that small quiet voice again – telling me to go in a direction which was quite far away from where we had been when he ran off. Bernd decided to go in the opposite direction. Walking through the snowy and icy fields, I suddenly saw some rabbits running helter-skelter through the fields. Something told me that this was a bit suspicious, I quickened my pace to see why they were obviously in a panic. And then in the far distance I saw a big white form emerging from the fog, galloping along with something trailing behind him, hot on the heels of a rabbit running before him. I instantly knew it was Jaden. I called out loudly to Bernd hoping he would hear me since I didn’t want to get my phone out in the biting cold (the battery tends to die out very quickly in the cold). Luckily Bernd heard me, turned around and saw what he called “a white riderless horse galloping out of the mist”. It took him a second to recognise that this was Jaden and he ran towards him. This time Jaden listened to him, stopped and sat in the fields. We were so relieved to have found our puppy again, who looked very pleased with himself and still wanted to chase some rabbits.
These experiences showed and taught me some interesting things. Even though I am known to be someone who is very calm in a crisis, I was surprised that I didn’t panic at all, especially when we didn’t find him the second time and it was getting really cold. I have never loved anyone/anything as much as I love Jaden and not finding him, imagining him running into an oncoming car or falling into a ditch and not getting out should have panicked me. But it didn’t and I was quite fascinated to discover this side of me. Another interesting learning was hearing and listening to that quiet inner voice. You can call it intuition, trained by years of experience and learnings, but I call it the voice of God. So often in my life, I have simply not heard that inner voice because other voices were louder and I was in panic. Or I did not listen and do what it was telling me, very often because what it said was in total contradiction to all the other voices around me which were louder and seemed so full of wisdom and experience. So often I have prayed and asked God for direction, especially when I was facing a challenging situation but so often I didn’t completely trust Him or what He was telling me. Both these times however I heard that voice and listened to it, even though it was telling me something that seemed pretty improbable. These experiences taught me that I should listen to that inner voice “more often”, trust it and keep my eyes open when walking the path that the inner voice has told me to go on.
When we finally found Jaden both the times, he listened to us and stopped (probably because he was exhausted from digging or chasing the rabbits that he just couldn’t find). Both the times he knew he had done something wrong and was extremely docile, obedient and wanted a lot of cuddles and tummy rubs afterwards. We have been training with him more than before in the past days and he listens to every command. It all works perfectly till a rabbit, pheasant or deer comes along. Obviously this is a temptation that he just cannot resist. And then he forgets all the good things he has learnt and goes crazy! Jaden could have caused so much harm – to himself and to others had he run onto the busy road, all because he just couldn’t resist running after the rabbit. I can’t help thinking about human nature and how we all have that one (or more) temptation that we just cannot resist, no matter how hard we try. We know that something is morally wrong and yet we succumb to it, very often causing damage, hurt and pain to those we love. And yet like Jaden, we have the option to turn away from the path of disaster, go back to those we have hurt, to say sorry and hope for trust to be rebuilt.
As a Christian, it reminds me of what Paul wrote in the book of Romans “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18) . Although we know it is not good for us; dangerous for us or harms our relationships with those we love, we succumb to the temptation and the result very often is irreparable damage, hurt and destruction. Just as we didn’t give up searching for Jaden and kept calling out to him; God follows us when we go astray, calling out our name and we always have the option to stop and hear his voice and turn towards Him again.
Much too often people tend to smile and tell me that of course I would have an issue controlling Jaden since he is a big and strong dog and I appear to be so much smaller in comparison to him. So I must admit that it was a bit reassuring for me that even Bernd could not hold onto him and had to let go, otherwise he would have hurt himself. It is pretty obvious to us that we need to do something about Jaden and his tendency to forget everything when he is tempted by a rabbit or a pheasant. We’ve had some encounters with rabbits after these experiences but we were prepared for it, And we have him now only on a short leash, not on the retractable long leash, which gives us a better control over him. I just hope that I can get the OK from my physiotherapist soon so that I can finally start going to obedience school with him again.
And so Jaden continues to teach me valuable lessons in life. It is never boring with him, he can be quite challenging but he also fills my life with joy, happiness and love. And with laughter – in hindsight we cannot stop laughing at the image of him emerging through the fog, galloping along with the leash dangling and banging behind him, completely focussed on the rabbit before him whom he had no chance of catching at all!!