Cindy Kalyan and Betsy Burton were hiking with their dogs on a Colorado mountain trail when Burton noticed movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look and there stood a mountain lion, less than 10 feet away.
Burton had volunteered at a mountain lion rehab center in Telluride, so her first thought wasn’t typical. She knew mountain lions were shy, usually choosing to stay away from humans. She wasn’t alarmed.
“I should have reacted differently, but I first just noticed how beautiful it was,” she says. “Then it did exactly what you don’t want a mountain lion to do. Its ears were flat back and it crouched down.” That’s when Stanley, Kalyan’s golden retriever, jumped between Burton and the lion.
“I managed to rip a branch from a tree. It’s amazing what adrenaline allows you to do,” Burton says. “Cindy picked one up from the ground. We held them over our heads and we yelled, but the lion kept coming toward me.”
All the while, Maggie, Burton’s border collie mix, cowered behind her, while Stanley, the retriever, stood his ground, growling and barking. Burton slowly walked backward as the lion crept forward. Stanley lunged for the lion over and over, defending Burton. Then the lion stopped, turned, and retreated. Stanley pursued, chasing the lion up a nearby tree.
“Stanley was standing at the bottom of the tree, guarding the lion and making sure it wouldn’t come back down,” says Kalyan. The women walked away from the lion, calling Stanley to come. He didn’t. Eventually the two women could not see or hear the dog.
“We were crying, thinking that Stanley was dead. Then he came bounding over this hill with this expression on his face that seemed to say, Can you believe it? Can you believe it? It was amazing. Stanley was incredible,” says Burton.
HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO DEFEND
Some dogs will cower behind their owners whereas others will meet a threat head on. If you have a working dog with a tough temperament—such as a shepherd, rottweiler, doberman, or terrier—you may be well protected.
Even so, it takes many, many hours and a lot of expertise to properly train a guard dog. That’s why celebrities and millionaires hand over tens of thousands of dollars to dog trainers, who then work with their dogs for many months, says Val DeSantis, a dog behavioral consultant and trainer in Pueblo, Colorado.
One handy skill that you can teach your dog at home, however, is this: to bark on command. Your dog’s bark is probably louder than your yell, so it will draw attention to your plight and might be enough to scare off a wild animal. To start, reward your dog whenever he barks. Eventually your dog will bark and look at you, waiting for a treat. Now add a command, such as “speak” or “bark” at the moment your dog barks. Work up to saying the command, waiting for the bark, and then rewarding with a treat.