Rural Running: Porch Dog Primer

My unintentional* foray into a 24 mile run yesterday took me through some of the remaining rural sections of my domain. Often, one can see the specific area I live in referred to as “rural”–it isn’t (though rural seems to be code for “not yet overdeveloped”** in this case); however, you can get to rural areas fairly quickly from here–even, as it turns out, on foot.

The areas that lack the kinds of commercial development that have a stranglehold on most of the surrounding counties (mine included–our tiny county has SCORES of apartment complexes and big box stores) are every bit as beautiful as you might imagine. There are homes and the odd subdivisions scattered throughout, but there are also stretches of grasslands (that were once pine stands, most likely) and quiet. The traffic is, for the most part, relatively light, and those who do drive by tend to give runners plenty of room–unlike the drivers on certain other local roads.

I was fortunate to be joined by a number of new friends on my rambles yesterday, all of them canine. Dogs of all stripes–from farm dogs to apartment dwellers to the elite pampered set–are in abundance in my home county and its surrounding areas. Folks love their dogs, and I count myself in their numbers, since I do adore the canine troops, though I currently share residence with two felines, since G is, to put it mildly, not a dog fan. I was fortunate to grow up with dogs–German Shepherds*** at home and scores of labs, mutts, spaniels (of assorted shapes and sizes), bassets, dachshunds, and even a St. Bernard at the homes of family and friends. Consequently, I learned at a young age how to read dogs and how to approach them, etc. Such skills have served me well over the years, when large dogs (because folks tend to fear them more than the scrappy set–which is a tad foolish) appear in the neighborhood, roaming without obvious human in tow.

Yesterday was no exception, because I met scores of new canine buddies on my travels, and I’d like to introduce them to you. I am sad that I have no pictures to share but, well, the camera really would have been excessive, you know?

Rural Dogs 1 & 2: Turtle in Mouth and Short Dog

If you’ve never been in the backwoods of the South (or, hell, even a few miles out of the city), then you might never have met a rural dog (is this a regional thing, or a rural thing everywhere?). Rural dogs hang out on and under porches (some will be known as porch dogs, and you’ll meet a few below) during the summer, when it is far too hot for anyone to be wandering about, but they tend to roam during the cooler months. Rural dogs do not operate within the confines of a chain link or wooden fence nor especially anything so untoward as the electric fence. These dogs roam, often without a collar, and they tend to find trouble where ever they can.

My first two buddies found me at about mile 6. One was a lab/boxer/indeterminate average black dog and the other was some sort of dachshund mix (rural dogs, by the way, are often black. Black dogs are absolutely ubiquitous in rural GA–which works well, since any other dog will be permanently stained red from the clay). The taller of the two carried a box turtle in his/her mouth. When they saw me run by, they seemed to think it would be swell to join me, though they periodically would stop to check out a chase opportunity–squirrels and the odd chipmunk (Turtle dog never releasing his/her catch during these forays). So, these two fine canines stayed with me in fits and spurts for about a mile-and-a-half, when they arrived at what I think was home. Short dog (who did a bang up of keeping up with me–boy am I slow) turned off the path, followed soon by Turtle Dog, who, prior to running home ignominiously dropped the turtle. *Bang!* Soon, however, TD reappeared and ran with me for another half mile or so, before apparently deciding that I was completely irrational. I think he came back for me that second time under the impression that I needed intervention.

Rural Dogs 3-7: The Boxer Brigade

The next rural dog set appeared around mile 10 or 11, when I met 5 boxer mixes in quick succession and my first true porch dogs (though I’ve seen a number of them online). Old Dog, the first one I encountered, merely observed my existence and then carried on. The next two, who were apparently plotting to disturb the local cattle, looked briefly guilty and then feigned innocence as I ran by; as soon as I passed (I turned back to look), they resumed their plan to harass the local cows that stood on just on the other side of the wire fence. If the dogs had access to wire cutters, they so would have been there. The last two made a great production of barking at me as I went by, but quieted when I said hello and passed the property line. They also failed to actually move during the barking episode, which suggested to me that perhaps the barking was more for show than actual, you know, property protection–they exemplify the porch dog motif–>all bark, little actual movement.

Rural Dog 8: Jack Russell, Terrier-at-large

The eighth Rural Dog was a Jack Russell, they of the hyperactive streak. He didn’t run with me terribly long, a quarter mile or so, before he apparently decided that this was exceedingly uncool and would involve no more than a crazy running woman talking to him, and no food or ball throwing. Deeming the run a useless exercise (at that point, I was inclined to agree with the assessment), he turned back for home.


Rural Dogs 9-11: The Marauding Pack of Chihuahuas

I saw Dogs 9 & 10 before I met Dog 8; the Chihuahuas (I love that they are such an easily identifiable breed–even at that distance) were about a half-mile or so ahead of me, screwing around in the grass beside the road. They took off running about the time Dog 8 found me, and when I rounded the curve ahead, I did not see them, so I assumed they had departed the scene.

Wrong.

As I headed downhill at mile 14 or so, just before my route took a hard left to go around the reservoir, I spotted 9 & 10 at the bottom of the hill. Their pack had grown by one and all three chihuahuas romped at the bottom of the driveway. As I mentioned, dogs don’t generally frighten me, but if you have ever seen chihuahuas in a pack in action, then you might realize why the situation–me in a fairly lonely area, facing down three ankle biters–gave me pause. See, chihuahuas, for all their nervous shaking, act like rebellious teens when they are in a group; as with the teens, their collective intelligence drops, the more chihuahua (or teen) you add to the mix. So the “little dog syndrome” they suffer from as single dog is amplified by additional dog, and here I was facing three of the buggers, marauding around the curve I needed to take. As I approached, the yapping began. And got louder. And they kept barking…

and running up the driveway away from me, while barking furiously.

So much for the herd O’Chihuahua.

Rural Dogs 12 & 13: On Pits, Chows, and Insanity

These two fine specimens (both mutts, one with a bit of chow in her, I think) were the only dogs living near a busy road and, probably not coincidentally, the only ones to threaten attack–well, dog 13 did–the chow (Chows are about the only breed I don’t like dealing with. Unlike pit bulls, who are congenial animals when raised right, chows are freaking insane). My reticence to deal with chows probably made the situation louder than necessary (I’m sure she knew it), but, again, having been raised around dogs, I have a decent sense about them, and I realized quickly that she (dog 12–a lab/pit mutt variant was, I think, simply following her lead–but mostly wanted to be pet) was less upset by my proximity to her drive way than the fact that I was running. So I slowed to a walk, she quieted down some, and they escorted me, still barking (uh, them barking, not me), to the beginning of the pastureland. What really bugged the crap out of me how easily these dogs could be hit on that highway–the driveway is less than a half-mile from the highway, and, as we have seen, most of the rural dog set is willing to follow at least that far.

So, there you have it, my Tour de Rural Dogland. Maybe I should pack Milk Bones next time…


* I plotted two maps recently, 20 and 22 miles respectively. Unfortunately, when I got to the end of one road, I thought I might have looked at the wrong one, and back tracked to the other road, adding two miles to my intended 22. I really need to trust my memory better than that. On the other hand, I did 24 miles yesterday, walking the final 5 miles (GA gullywasher combined with running out of water–stupid, I know) in the time I estimated for the marathon, so I’m feeling pretty good about the 26.2 in June.

** Not going to go on an environmental rant. Well, not this time, any way.

***Large German Shepherds, at that, averaging about 125 lbs of muscle and fur.

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