It was early morning and Nancy Robinson was off for her usual trail run with her dogs, a shepherd mix named Marlo and a boxer named Spenser. About halfway through her run, she felt something sting her just above her right ear. She kept running, a dog on either side, but soon she felt off her game.
“I was a little dizzy and lightheaded, so I decided to walk for a few steps. Then I had to squat down and then, apparently, I passed out,” she says.
Robinson's dogs sat beside her, with Spenser, the boxer, continually licking her face. She remained there, coming in and out of consciousness, for 45 minutes before a woman happened by a nearby trail. Robinson’s dogs ran to the woman, wildly barking and trying to get her attention, their leashes dragging behind them. At first the woman turned in a different direction, afraid of the dogs. Eventually, however, the woman noticed what she thought was a pile of clothes. As she stared, she realized that what she saw wasn’t clothes. It was a person.
Still afraid of the dogs, the woman got help from a park ranger who then called 911. Robinson was treated for anaphylactic shock and fully recovered. “There are people who think dogs are just pets, but they are so much more than that. They are amazing,” she says.
HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO GET HELP
Training a dog to get help is simpler than you’d think, but you’ll need the help of a second person to pull it off.
1. While you and another adult are in the same room, reward your dog every time he or she glances at the other person. For instance, your reward might be an enthusiastic “yes!” or a click from a clicker along with a tiny bit of a very tasty treat. At first, you might have to wait quite a while before your dog happens to glance over. Eventually, however, your dog will catch on, says Anna Jane Grossman, owner of School for the Dogs in New York and editor of TheDo.gs Web magazine.
2. Slowly ramp up the challenge, waiting for your dog, for instance, to physically walk over to the other person. Reward your dog both for walking to the other person and also for returning to you.
3. Add a command such as “go find,” and increase the challenge by standing farther and farther apart. You want to get to the point that one person can hide in another room. Try playing this game of hide and seek in many different surroundings: indoors, outdoors, at parks, and on the trail.
Here’s the downside: You can’t ever be sure that another human will be able to interpret your dog’s barks as “Please help my owner! Please follow me!” As a result, Mirkka Koivusalo, Ph.D., head trainer at Mindful Behaviors in Toronto, suggests you create a handwritten note that you can attach to your dog’s collar and take with you whenever you are in the wilderness. Write it on a bright piece of fabric, saying something like: “My owner is in trouble. Follow me.” You might also bring a permanent marker with you, so you can add details of your location, if needed.