I hadn’t gone through the black duffel in years, but that long lapse of time meant nothing to Jigs and Chloe. The moment I pulled the bag from the shelf, they rejoiced, running laps around me as I inventoried it’s contents on the living room floor. Every few seconds they’d stop to poke their heads in the bag, and then jump up on me, scratching my back with their too-sharp nails, trying to lick my face. If they could speak, I know they’d be saying, “Get them out!”
My string gets excited whenever I put on my shoes, touch my car keys, or get in the near vicinity of their leashes — those are pretty common reactions for most dogs. My Alaskan Huskies went insane when I grabbed their harnesses, knowing they’d soon be running down a trail. But many people might be amazed to see that Jigs and Chloe get even more amped up over their shock collars. To them, these collars mean something even bigger than walk or roadtrip or mushing — they mean FREEDOM!
The black duffel contains all of my dog-hiking paraphernalia: blaze orange collars for hunting season, small cow bells to help me locate my short dogs in tall brush, a treat bag, water bottles, and a bowl. One morning last week, I finally worked up the nerve to take out the collars and charge them up. I’ve been wanting to let them off-leash for so long, but my heart still suffers from the “what if’s?”. Giving my dogs their freedom back was something I needed to do — for them and for me.
My friend and veterinarian in Indy, Dr. Shannon Kiley, helped me train Jigs to a shock collar when he was two years old. German Jagd Terriers are bred to hunt bear and wild boar along with the usual rodents. The small but tough terriers have a hard-wired hunting instinct that can be difficult to control. Training Jigs to a shock collar made his off-lead life safer, and gave me some much-needed peace of mind. Now, I train all of my hiking dogs to the collars (I use the Tritronics Pro 100 G3 EXP model with Tracer Lights) which I prefer to call their “pagers.” I very rarely use the shock button anymore, only needing to press the “BEEP!” sound button to get their attention in the field. Jigs and Chloe love to be “paged,” knowing that a treat awaits them when they “come.”
I know my dogs are animals, and there will be times (usually involving skunks or deer or porcupine) when their instincts will take over. I weigh the risks and rewards wherever I go, and try to make the best decisions for their safety. Every day, I become a little bit braver. At first, I allowed them to run free on familiar hikes around Martinsdale Reservoir or up Pasture Gulch. Now, we are branching out to new trails in the Castles, Crazy, and Little Belt Mountains. Every time I release them to run, yelling their favorite command, “FREE DOG!”, I feel tiny pieces of my old self returning. And I am reminded that one of the most precious gifts in life is freedom… of all kinds.