Sandy the Golden Shar can show you around the back country

I haven’t written much about my involvement with the Sierra Club. It is one of America’s most well-known environmental organizations. I became involved in 2010, when I decided to organize a fundraiser and environmental awareness event in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Through continued involvement with the Sierra Club at the local level — specifically, the Thomas Hart Benton Group — I get the honor of interacting regularly with folks who share my concern and respect for the natural world. Quite a few them also happen to be dog lovers.

Sometimes, dogs come to our meetings.

Sandy, a formerly wayward golden retriever/shar pei mix, even helps lead outings in the back country.

Sandy acts as a canine assistant to avid outdoorsman Paul Gross, who believes his beloved pet feels quite at home in nature.

When we are on top of a high place looking out onto the country below and in front of us, he’s looking, seeing and smelling. He’s taking it all in. It’s his domain, and he is in the ‘here and now.’ Lawrence Ferlinghetti said it quite well in his poem “Dog.”

Sandy ended up with Paul and his wife Melody after following the right person home.

Our daughter who lives in Columbia (Mo.) was out walking her two dogs one Sunday evening, when she heard this dog come up behind them. She let the dog follow her home — something she had never done before. He had no tags, and she let him in. He got along well with her two dogs. She called animal control and had them come and pick him up, thinking that if someone had lost him, then that would be the best way to reunite dog and owner. She then called us up, and informed us that she had just found our new dog.

Paul is one of those super strong cycling types that you would never peg as a vegetarian by just looking at him. In addition to organizing local adventures, he is a leader for the Sierra Club’s National Outings program, and he has enjoyed experiencing nature with many dogs over the years, including the nature-lovin’ Max and Sassy.

Paul wasn’t initially impressed by Sandy’s unusual appearance.

When I first saw a picture of Sandy, I wasn’t too sure. I thought he looked pretty homely. Boy, has my attitude totally changed. This pooch is the best dog I’ve ever had, and certainly the cutest. My wife calls him my chick magnet! In many places that we go shopping or banking together, I’m always greeted by ‘How’s Sandy?’ or ‘Where is Sandy?’ I’m 62 now, and I hope Sandy and I can grow old gracefully together.

Paul and Melody made a point to fence in their backyard before Sandy moved in, realizing that as a fomerly wayward dog, he may have a tendendy to run off. And Paul later took time to be sure he could trust Sandy off leash — in the woods or anywhere.

Paul offers the following advice to anyone considering taking their dog on a hike without a leash:

It takes many hours, and lots of love, praise, treats, and excitement in your voice. You need to have a good mix of one on one time while hiking with your dog. Slowly work taking him or her off leash for short intervals at first. I would walk Sandy really briskly for 30 minutes before I would remove the leash. I wanted him to be a little tired and not quite so fresh. When I did start taking him off leash, I would only do so for a few minutes at a time. Gradually, I would increase the time.

Also, I work with a whistle. I use this for recall at various times. I can’t say we didn’t have our scary moments. Seeing a wild animal while out hiking is always a temptation. Wild turkey and deer are the biggest ones for Sandy and me. He loves chasing deer.

It’s been a hard challenge, but each time he’s gone is shorter and shorter.

During all of this, you can’t neglect your dog’s social skills with other dogs. This is important, and hiking with other dogs can help. Chaos will prevail, if none of the dogs you are hiking with are trained. Dogs do learn from each other’s behavior.

Lastly, I personally think that putting a dog backpack on them sets the tone that this activity is different and special, and we are going to be part of the pack. After all dogs are animals that lived in packs in the wild. There will always be the Alpha dog, and you have to be that Alpha dog.

Super smart Sandy is one of those dogs who is eager to please yet needs to be challenged.

As you surely deduced from yesterday’s post, he’s an agility dog.

Paul recalls one of the first times he realized just how clever Sandy was:

For at least a year and a half after we first got Sandy, we would go for hour-plus long walks. I would try to make them brisk, and on-leash. They would mostly be on trails or gravel paths in the area. Most of the time it was woodland setting with ups and downs. Occasionally, I would take him off leash and make him heel as we walked the trail. I would then stop, and have him sit and stay (a favorite command).

I would walk down the trail 20 or 30 feet at first, and then call him to come. He would come dashing to me, getting much praise, love, treats and excitement when he reached me. I gradually would lengthen the distance that I would leave between us. Many times I would walk until I was almost out of sight. Each time he would be intensely sitting and anxiously waiting for me to call him. We would do this many times during the course of our walks in the woods or on the multipurpose trails. Eventually I would even go out of sight, and I’d blow a whistle. He loves playing this game. He loves to run, and this gives him an outlet.

One day while we were walking on the Katy trail in Sedalia, Sandy took it upon himself to up the ante and be proactive in our game. (By this time I rarely had him on a leash, unless we were walking in town on paved sidewalks or in businesses.)

We were walking along, with Sandy right at my side in a perfect heel position when all of a sudden, I realized I couldn’t see him in my perpheral vision. I looked down and he wasn’t there. I turned around and looked back, and he was sitting on the trail 10 feet behind me thumping his tail, and looking at me very intently. His eyes were saying, ‘Come on let’s play the game!’ He wanted me to walk on down the trail while he sat there and waited until I called him. That is what he wanted, and that is what I did. He continued to ask that many more times during the course of that walk. He still lets me know when he wants to ‘play the game,’ as I call it.

Sandy’s next big Sierra Club outing is to the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in Montana this August. Reservations are currently available for the weeklong expedition.

In the meantime, I hope Sandy and Paul will join the KC Pittie Pack and Friends on one of our future activities.

This Saturday, Emily from Our Waldo Bungie and I will lead the leashed pack of pit bulls and other dogs on a hike at the Overland Park Arboretum. If you live in the Kansas City area and would like to join us, send an e-mail to and we will reply with the full details.


About crystalwayward

I live with two formerly wayward dogs. I care deeply about the environment, and I think gardening is a revolutionary act.

Posted on January 19, 2012, in Awesome, Dogs, Dogtography, Environmentalism, KC Pittie Pack and Friends and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great story! Sandy is a real cutie 🙂 So happy he has a wonderful forever home. Love the agility photos–so cool.

  2. I would love to teach Charlie Machete agility stuff. I think he’d be really good at it.

  1. Pingback: Poem: “Dog” « Wayward Dogs

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