Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Diggers Duty to the Dog

It is not politically correct to say this, but it is nonetheless true that women, on average, have half the upper body strength of their male counterparts. 

Terrier work is not for fools, the unprepared, or the physically weak. Most of the time it is a simple things: dog in, dogs bays, quarry bolts or is dug to.

Most of the time.

There there are the other times: when the dog goes so deep it is off the Deben box and cannot be heard; when the explosive stench of skunk poison rises like smoke from the hole; when the dog refuses to shift out of a solid rock hole; when, after four feet of dirt, you hit running sand; when the dog is unable to turn around or exit due to a rock or root slipping behind it.

This is when tools matter, and you have to have the right tools with you in the field.

In terrier work, the most important tool is between your ears. A lot of things that are written off as a "tragic accident," are, in fact, a predictable nightmare.

"The collar failed."

Yes it did. But did you spend time to really tape the collar, and do you know how to tape a collar? Did you enter a dog under a power line? Did you test the batteries before they were put in? Did you check to make sure the collar and receiver were working before letting the dog loose?

I have been guilty of all of these failures at one time or another (as have most diggers), but let us be straight; our failure is not an accident. It is sloth. It is stupidity. It is recklessness.

So many "accidents" occur when dogs are in the field without collars and the dog's owner is without tools. Again, I have been guilty of this transgression, but let it be clear that stupidity, sloth and foolishness on the part of humans is the chief culprit in what is too easily an unfolding tragedy. Failure to put a dog on a leash is not an "act of God," it is the non-action of a human.

Another invaluable tool, along with common sense and a basic knowledge of terrier work, is a certain level of physical strength.

It is not politically correct to say this, but it is nonetheless true that women, on average, have half the upper body strength of their male counterparts. This is not to say women cannot dig. Some women diggers are more capable than most men (including me). It is simply to say that all diggers, and women in particular, need to make an honest assessment of their physical abilities. It is one thing to think you can dig a hole five feet square, but it is quite another to do it when the time comes. It is a risky and marginal thing for a relatively fit man to work his dog solo, and it is not recommended for most women. Two heads are better than one most of the time, and two bodies are better than one all of the time.  If your dog is skunked underground, you will have minutes to get it out, not hours.

Women who think they can equalize it all by simply putting more people in the field need to give this notion a second pause. Is more people in the field going to mean more dogs in the field as well?  I do not like large groups in the field because it is too hard to keep track of all of the dogs.  People get to talking and dogs are as fast as lightning.  It only takes one skunked dog, one dog slit open by barbed wire, one dog fight, or one dog struck by a car to seriously ruin a day.  With more dogs on the ground, the possibility for trouble begins to rise rapidly.

Another issue is that large digging groups rarely get together in the U.S., so if you are dependent on four or five people getting together for a day's outing, it may be that no one in the group is very experienced.  Lack of experience may not matter too much if it's a simple two foot pop hole in friable soil (as most may be), but if you have to drop a six foot hole or work around major obstruction and geology, muscle mass and experience can matter quite a lot.

None of this is said to be sexist, but it's important to be a realist.  Digging on the dogs is not a short walk over a manicured lawn.

It is not go-to-ground.

Diggers should be prepared to carry 40-60 pounds of tools for several miles and then sink a hole in hard stuff at the end of the journey. Poison ivy and multi-flora rose are guaranteed, and there is always a possibility (however slight) that a dog can die due to an encounter with a skunk underground, a cave in, or some other mishap.

The person who works his or her dog has a duty to the dog to be prepared to pay for any and all veterinary care needed (I once shelled out $3,000 for a very serious injury from a groundhog), to stay out all day and night digging if need be, and to even rent earth moving equipment if it is absolutely required.

If you are not prepared for the labor, the thorns, the cost, and the time, then digging on the dogs is not for you.


geonni banner said...

I am always in favor of discouraging folks from doing things with dogs that are a) hard work, and b) possibly dangerous. Not because I think that people shouldn't do these things, but because most people have too much "quit." And those people shouldn't do stuff that they won't do right, and thereby put perfectly good dogs at unnecessary risk.

5string said...

Good post. You blog makes it sound adventurous but digging is hard-ass work.
My Rattie "General Lee" holed an armadillo in the side of a hollow in the virgin growth behind the house here in TN and I wanted to dig that sumbitch out to kill him. 10 minutes with a pickaxe and I was beat! I hit tree roots almost immediately and they were through and through. Plus working on an unstable 45° slope doesn't make it easier. I gave up.

Thank goodness my dogs won't enter the dens.

Got that 'diller a few nights later. 12 ga. Ithica and a Maglite XL50. The turkey buzzards had that thing picked clean before brunch the next morning.