Bug Catcher Dog

We were never bothered by flies in the house. Our dog Gypsy Rose could catch a fly in midair. Catching bugs, especially flying bugs, was one of her favorite pastimes. She could also catch wasps.

The first time our dog tried to catch a wasp I stopped her, afraid that she would get stung. Hovering like an overprotective mother I would intervene. Wasps in the house were an uncommon occurrence so I didn’t expect to encounter this again right away.

The next day brought more wasps. So did the day after and many days to follow. The wasps kept coming. Apparently they had some secret door into the house.

Gypsy Rose was mesmerized by these loud, buzzing creatures. Flies had always been a favorite treat and the wasps were bigger and noisier. She yearned for the hunt and I was growing tired of being the bad guy who kept spoiling her joy so one day I decided to just let her be. Gypsy Rose would get stung and she’d learn not to mess with wasps again. That would be the end of it.

To my utter disbelief she caught the wasp in midflight, pulling her lips back from her teeth and snapping the wasp in half. Several quick snaps of her teeth chopped the wasp to pieces before it could extend the stinger and the pieces disappeared down her throat as happy little dog treats. I was in awe. Surely this was a fluke.

The days passed and our dog caught wasp after wasp, thoroughly enjoying this tasty new morsel. I developed a morbid fascination watching her accomplish this daring deed. If she got stung it did not faze her because for all the rest of her years, Gypsy Rose happily caught wasps and ate them. Gypsy Rose was our bug catcher.

Dakota on the other hand preferred much bigger game. Dakota was an Australian Cattle Dog / Husky mix. These were two dog breeds from some of the wildest, untamed territories known to man. Cattle Dogs were bred to herd cattle out on the open range, running for hours on end to keep the cattle in line, risking their lives when a frisky cow would try to kick them away. Siberian Huskies were bred for the wilds of Alaska. Neither was a dainty breed.

While Dakota would happily tackle a bug on the floor and eat it, she could not master the art of catching flies in midair as Gypsy Rose had done. She preferred the chase of a squirrel or chipmunk, pursuits that fed her need to run fast and hard in the great outdoors.

More often than not she ignored my calls to come in. The Call of the Wild was an aphrodisiac full of irresistable temptations. Dakota was a house dog who loved the outdoors. The treats I offered to lure her back inside paled in comparison to the wonders that Mother Nature offered.

One particular morning I let her out for her final morning potty, the potty that would hold her the rest of the day while we were at work. I let her have a few extra minutes outdoors while I prepared my lunch. When I called for Dakota to come back in I was answered with silence. Something had captured her attention again. I called and called and several minutes passed before she finally came trotting up the stairs carrying something in her mouth. To my great surprise Dakota laid a four inch round turtle on the floor at my feet, her face alit with pure joy. He was tucked tight into his shell and appeared to be unharmed.

“Look at the really cool thing I found in the woods!” her eyes seemed to say. “Can I have it please? Can I keep it?” Joy and innocence shined in her eyes as she shared her greatest moment with me.

Being more focused on getting to work I didn’t stop to think how I should handle this important moment in our dog’s life. I picked up the turtle and gently told her no, she couldn’t have the turtle, then I took it outdoors and let it go free and off to work I went.

The event haunted me. I’d missed a golden opportunity. I got halfway up the street when I had to turn around. All I could think about was how I should have taken pictures of Dakota and the turtle before taking it away. I should have taken a picture of the turtle up next to something to demonstrate its size. I should have taken a photo of Dakota’s happy face, of her holding the turtle, of the turtle on the ground at her feet. I should have preserved this special moment to remember it always. This was an important moment for her, sharing this big find. I had to go back. I had to take pictures.

I turned the car around and went back home with the intention of bringing the turtle back in for a couple of quick photos then setting it loose again. A five minute delay, that’s all I needed. But there was one giant dilemma: the turtle was gone. I searched high and low for that turtle, all thru the woods and across the yard, circling wider and wider. Surely he couldn’t have disappeared so quickly! How far could a turtle have possibly have gotten? I searched and searched to no avail. The turtle was nowhere to be found.

All the way to work I tormented myself over an additional mistake I’d made in reacting to Dakota with the turtle. I realized that I’d handled the whole affair totally wrong. Dakota had brought that turtle to me having no idea I’d take it away from her. She’d never attempt to bring another in. From that moment forward she simply wouldn’t come when I called her. I’d worked so hard in trying to train her to come in from outside on command and now I’d sent the message loud and clear that to keep her tasty dog treat she’d have to stay outdoors and ignore my calls. We’d been struggling with this stage of her dog training.

What should I have done? I’m no dog expert but I believe I should have given her something in trade. The moment I took the turtle away I should have given her a desireable dog treat in its place. That’s how we taught her what she could chew in the house. We traded legal dog chews for illegal objects.

This tactic had worked well and Dakota had learned not to chew anything except what we gave her to chew. Rather than focusing totally on the negative, the NO, we were swapping it with a positive. We didn’t just punish her by taking something away and leaving her frustrated, we offered a replacement to entice her to make a good decision.

Had I traded for the turtle I would have sent the message that the turtle was not okay but that I would give her something enjoyable in its place. Instead I sent the message that she’d better go find a hidey hole if she wanted to keep her turtles. If mama calls you’d better run and hide!

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