The Dog Whisperer — Not Me

This entry is part 59 of 67 in the series Field Notes

Surveying in the field exposes all of us to various threats from flora and fauna, not to mention the two-legged threats. It just comes with the job. Depending on location, we learn to identify and respect the diverse threats to our beings while conducting the course of our mission. They are just part of the job.

Over the years I have encountered bears, badgers (only one, but I gave it a wide berth), rattlesnakes a plenty, bees of all kinds, coyotes, bobcats, bulls, hogs, birds protecting nests, and mountain lions. Oh, and the plants, blackberries, wild roses, poison oak, and stinging nettle, primarily.

For the most part, none ever truly scared me, except perhaps finding fresh mountain lion tracks on top of ours on the way out from doing recon in the mountains. Never saw the big cat though. However, I have always respected and kept a keen awareness to avoid a conflict. For example, in rattlesnake areas I always try to make plenty of noise to allow them time to retreat. I look before stepping over a log or placing my hand on a ledge and walk in hot, sunny areas in the heat of the summer, which the “buzzworms” tend to avoid. For bees or spiders, enclosed lock areas on gates are always checked before putting a hand in and wearing gloves is always a good idea.

Ironically, none of these “wild” elements have caused me hesitation with proper precautions. It has been a domestic animal that I have never been comfortable with, which is “man’s best friend.” I have been a dog owner the majority of my life, and I have never been bitten by one, not even nipped, so my “fear” is not the result of trauma. It has just always been there. Loose dogs are one thing, but dogs protecting their turf are animals I have never been willing to challenge. I have worked with crew members who could approach what appeared to be a very aggressive dog or dogs and calm their voracious barking with just a few words, crouching, and slowly moving towards them. In moments, they would be wagging tails and licking the person much to my amazement.

Those dog whisperers have explained that dogs can sense fear, but even more importantly they are pack animals and if presented with a clear alpha, they will essentially back down. Dog trainers use this same superiority approach without abusing the animal. They become subservient and want to please, rather than attack. Seems simple enough, but I have never been able to avoid emitting fear, which means I lost before the engagement ever got started. Those same people have also told me that it’s not the barking dogs to be worried about, but the silent ones that sneak behind you to get a shot at the back of the lower leg. I guess that’s why they are called heelers!

Somehow, I remained an effective field hand for many years, despite this limitation, and never took much flack from my coworkers, who can be pretty brutal on field crews. At this point in my life, it’s doubtful I will ever conquer this fear, which is okay. My days of jumping fences to tie monuments are done. Heck, I don’t even walk close to a dog in a vehicle with an open window, even if it looks friendly.

The odd thing is, I was never afraid of heights until the last few years. Now I can’t even watch someone (friend, family, or stranger) walk close to coastal bluff without getting severe anxiety. I never expected the onset of a fear late in life, but my fear of “Man’s best friend” has been a lifelong weakness. I think we all have something. I can’t tell you how many surveyors I have known who are deathly afraid of snakes, any snake. What a bunch of wimps!!

And with that, I will close by letting you know that this will be my final installment as the full-time editor of Field Notes, a role I have held for almost six years. It truly is bittersweet as I have really enjoyed my stay.

I must thank a few people for this opportunity. First, Gavin Schrock, who showed confidence in me to get involved. Secondly, Shelly Cox, who was the editor-in-chief of xyHt when I started. The flexibility, writing guidance, and support that Shelly provided me were invaluable. Then there was Neil Sandler, the former owner of the publication who supported me when I needed his intervention. I also want to thank the various guest writers who have submitted articles over the years, including Eric Gladhill, who provided the most recent Field Notes and several other excellent articles in the tone of Field Notes. I must also thank Jeff Thoreson, the current editor-in-chief, for his support and willingness to work with me. Lastly, my readers. I have readers who have never surveyed a day in their lives but waited for my articles the first Thursday of every month to be emailed and often contacted me privately. Thank you for feeding my fire and making this fun.

I have always felt like a member of the xyHt family, especially when my Christmas package of goodies arrived.

In closing, I just want to say thank you for this opportunity and share my personal top favorites, in no particular order:

It’s been a blast and lasted way longer than I ever dreamed. But, even with 45 years of experiences, the well had to eventually go dry on material. Thank you all for this opportunity and may Field Notes continue in this same tradition for a very long time.

Happy Trails…

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