Summer’s Turtle Diary

A three-toed box turtle is walking through some high grass. Its she is yellowish brown with darker markings. Its head is held high
Turtle minding its own business

I was reminded again this week of the awesome olfactory capabilities of dogs.

My dog Summer has a passion for turtles. Passion is maybe not the right word. Fixation, love-hate relationship.

She wants to get them and chew them up. I have no doubt that she would eventually chew through the shell completely and kill them. Second best is getting them and having me remove them from the premises. I’m getting really anthropomorphic here, but she acts like they really, really offend her.

She cannot rest if one is around.

A sable dog is curved towards and looking directly at a small, black and white rat terrier. The sable dog is resource guarding a turtle. The look is direct and unfriendly.
Summer says, “My turtle!”

Here is a video (from when she was much younger) of her trying to get a turtle. You can see that she gives Cricket a very hard look (at 0:30) when she comes a little too close. Summer is resource guarding the turtle, which is unreachable on the other side of the fence. Speaking of the fence, note the chain length fence. That fence is still there, behind my privacy fence. That becomes relevant in the new movie below.

Turtle Migration

These are three-toed box turtles, and this is their migration season. They used to come in my yard from my neighbor’s yard, heading west. Then I put in a privacy fence. This was both bad and good for the turtles. Bad because it made their migration more difficult. (Sorry! I hate that!) Good because they won’t stumble into the clutches of Summer, the dog who hunts turtles.

Amy Martin has a really nice blog post on how to help turtles that are trying to migrate, including directions on how to handle snapping turtles. (Answer: very, very carefully.)

Anyway, a turtle showed up in the neighbor’s yard on June 16th, and Summer stalked it relentlessly for 11 days. Every single time she went outside, even during hard rain, she paced the fence until she got as close as she could to its current location. Then she would dig. I wasn’t particularly concerned because between our two yards are a wooden privacy fence, the original chain length fence right next to it, embedded in the ground, all mingled with a privet hedge that has been there more than 30 years and has an impermeable tangle of roots. Or so I thought.

If this were one of those tacky, click garnering websites, here is where I would say, “and I couldn’t believe what happened next!” And I really couldn’t! But I’ll tell you below in case you don’t want to watch the video (which is adorable, grin).

On June 27th Summer dug a shallow but incredibly accurate hole under the fences and through the roots, and pulled that turtle out of the other yard. I still don’t know exactly how she pulled that turtle through. Did it just stand there on the other side, wait, and tumble into the hole she dug? Was it digging too?

In any case, she grabbed it and brought it up to the house, then very nicely put it at my feet (really!). She watched me quite happily as I took it away into the other neighbor’s yard, in the direction it was going.

She has been patrolling the original fence daily since then, but not with the same intensity. She just gives it a quick check, to make sure there are no new offenders. She pays no attention to the fence in the direction I put the turtle, which tells me it must have torqued on out of there. I don’t blame it!

I have known four other dogs who were very intense about turtles. They were all rat terriers. I also read that there is a guy in South Carolina who uses Boykin Spaniels to help researchers do turtle counts. How about you? Are your dogs interested in turtles?

Coming Up:

  • The Girl with the Paper Hat Part 2: The Matching Law
  • You’re Too Close! The Pressure Sensitive Dog
  • Punishment is not a Feeling
  • Why Counterconditioning Didn’t “Work”
  • What if Respondent Learning Didn’t Work?

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Copyright 2014 Eileen Anderson



6 thoughts on “Summer’s Turtle Diary

  1. And here I thought Ruby, my wirehaired vizsla was the only turtle hunter! It’s quite interesting to watch as she slowly stalks them. She’s found a few and I can say all were saved and put back near our pond. Though one she did bloody a little bit. I saw him a few days later and he seemed ok, which I hope is still true. Wirehairs are known as all around hunters; fur and feather. I suppose I’ll have to add shell to the list.

    1. That’s cool, Laura! I’m glad you were able to rescue the turtles.

  2. We have a Russian Tortoise as a pet. When I first brought him home, I held him out for our Boxer to smell. I figured he would sniff, and that he might eventually grow excited if he saw the tortoise moving around, but maybe I could get him to just watch and smell. Instead, he (the dog) instantly opened his mouth to take the tortoise, as if to take a great big bite! He remained excited about the tortoise for a while, but I could redirect him, and the tortoise now lives in a low pen with a chicken-wire lid in the backyard, and the dogs barely notice him. In the cold months when Apollo is in his small house, inside, I let him out once a week to walk around the house after his bath. The dogs wait in their crates, watching with great interest, but calmly. If I had the time, I might try to use classical conditioning and training to teach the dogs to leave the tortoise, but I don’t think I’d ever leave them unsupervised.

    That’s funny that Summer doesn’t seem to necessarily want to get/kill//eat the tortoise, but wants it gone 🙂 Her expression at the end of the video is priceless!

    1. Interesting about your tortoise! I think you are wise to keep the it and the dogs separated! Summer would definitely, but gradually, do the turtle in if I left it with her. That’s why I think it is so interesting that she will give it to me readily. Thank goodness….

  3. Very cute! My favorite part, though, is Zani’s expression in the opening segment. I just love her face.

    My lab mix once brought me a box turtle, undamaged, when we were hiking in West Virginia. She was most offended that I insisted on leaving it there.

    1. I had to go back and look at the video to see what you meant. Ah yes! Zani was posing for the camera! I love her face and expressions, too.

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