I’ve been around dogs my whole life. We have raised all breeds and sizes. Over the years, I’ve lived with Pat, Smokey, Rusty, Oscar, Lady, Tango, and now Jake and Lulu. I have nothing against other animals, but I have always connected with dogs. The most appealing quality of dogs for me is their never-ending unconditional love. They aren’t prone to moodiness, tantrums, or giving the cold shoulder treatment the way that some people can.
We’ve raised our last three dogs since they were puppies. Having a puppy in some ways is like parenting a child. You give them love and discipline with the hope that they will grow up at some point. Just like some humans I know, a few of my dogs never quite reached full maturity.
Each dog I’ve lived with has had his/her own set of challenges. The only one we ever got from an animal shelter was Lady. She was a black lab mix and three years old (we think) when we got her. Labs are usually one of the most gentle and loving breeds, but she did not fit that profile. If ever there was a dog misnamed, it was Lady. Now that I think about it, she was the only dog we didn’t name.
My wife and I liked the idea of rescuing an unwanted dog from a shelter. One of the risks of adopting a shelter animal is that you don’t know the pet’s history. Lady was skittish around us at first. Was she mistreated when she was younger? After a short time, Lady bonded with us and was excellent around people. Unfortunately, when she was with other dogs, she became aggressive and psychotic.
After she attacked two dogs in separate incidents, we had to do something. She wasn’t playing rough with other animals; these were attacks with the intent to do serious harm. I’ve only owned sweet and loving dogs before, and this was the first time I ever felt nervous as a pet owner. We could not live with the threat of impending vet bills, lawsuits, and the fear of our dog doing extreme harm to somebody else’s pet.
I tried to return the dog to the shelter, but the owner claimed he had no room for it. We intended for Lady to be an inside/outside dog, but there was no way she could be outside unless she were in her pen. Since my wife and I both worked in the day, this meant getting up at dawn so she could get some exercise. I put Lady in the back of my pickup and drove to a place where I could get her on the leash. If she saw another dog, it was like a switch turned, and she became enraged throwing herself against the windows of the truck.
Despite my efforts to try to keep her away from other animals, we occasionally encountered another pet owner walking his dog. I remember one incident when I had Lady on a leash, and we met an elderly gentleman who was walking his poodle. At first, the man wanted the dogs to socialize and began to approach me. I warned him that my dog was not friendly with other animals, but he either didn’t hear me or assumed I was exaggerating. The guy wanted to talk, and we attempted to have a conversation. After a short time, I had to walk away; he probably thought I was antisocial. I’m a relatively strong man, but I had to do everything in my power and forcefully pulled the leash to keep Lady from attacking his unsuspecting pooch.
After that incident, I called the animal shelter again and begged the owner to take the dog back. Fortunately, this time he agreed. I felt sorry for Lady, but at least I no longer feared that she was going to maim or kill another animal on my watch.
Our current dogs are Jake and Lulu. They are healthy yellow labs weighing in around ninety pounds. Jake is seven, and Lulu is five. They may be reasonably close in age, but their personalities couldn’t be more distinct. If Jake were to set up a dating profile, it would read, likes—food and chasing the ball. Oh, did I mention food? The prospect of victuals drives everything in Jake’s behavior. Wow! Sounds a lot like me! No wonder I have such an attachment to him.
We have to remember not to ever leave food out on the counter. If we forget, there is a good chance that Jake will get it. He gets on his back legs and drags food from the countertops. Jake has a distinctive gait when stealing something. I may be reading in the living room, and I can tell from his quick dash across the floor in the kitchen that he has just taken a snack and is about to have a picnic under his favorite tree.
Jake has to be the smartest dog we’ve ever owned. He has reached the age where he naps a lot. (another similarity we share) He uses his keen sense of hearing to determine whether it’s worth his energy to get up. I am convinced that he has learned to discern the various sounds in the kitchen. If I grab a snack, Jake’s radar is activated. His sonar tracking device tells him, “Do not disturb,” when he hears me grabbing a piece of fruit or some carrots.
On the other hand, he can be at the other end of the house sleeping, and will magically awaken when he hears me going for the crackers or the peanut jar. He never begs, but he walks into the room and stares at me with the kind of laser focus that any strict teacher would admire. I know I probably shouldn’t feed him human snacks, but I have to smile thinking about this quirk.
Another thing that reflects Jake’s intelligence is his incredible memory. My wife and I take turns during the day throwing objects for the dogs to chase. We usually tire of the game before them. At some point, the game ends when one of us puts the ball out of sight and reach. One amazing thing about Jake is he will recall the exact cabinet in which we’ve stored the ball, frisbee, chew toy, etc. I may be walking through the house twenty-four hours later and find him staring at a closed drawer. He doesn’t whine like one might expect a dog to do when he wants something. Instead, he fixates on the location as if he is using telekinesis. It is so comical that I often begin laughing.
Like most pet owners, we have rules for the dogs. There are two couches in our home. The more expensive one is leather, and they know not to get on it. Then we have another sectional sofa in the family room that is known as “the dog couch.” They may get on this one when a sheet covers it. Despite daily brushing, the dogs shed a lot. The sheet prevents the hair from covering the couch. They understand and follow our rules about the sofas.
Jake tests the rules when it comes to our bed. Debbie, my wife, does not want the dogs on the bed. This is a reasonable expectation, but I have to admit that I have enabled Jake to break it on occasion. When Debbie is home, Jake knows better and stays off. I told you he was intelligent. When she is out with her friends or traveling, he becomes the teenager who decides to test the limits. I’ll get involved with something and forget about the dogs. Suddenly it occurs to me that I haven’t seen Jake in a while. I go to check on him, and many times he is fast asleep on the bed. He looks up at me with eyes that seem to say, “Do you need something?” I’m sorry, Debbie, but I find this hilarious.
Another skill he possesses is catching. I throw the tennis ball as hard as my sixty-year-old arm allows, and he will snag it more often than not. Some major league ballplayers would have a hard time keeping up with Jake, and they are using gloves instead of their mouths.
I’ve determined it is the act of chasing that gives him the most pleasure. He wants to get to the object before Lulu, but once he has it, he allows her to take it right out of his mouth. He seems to understand that this is one of the necessary steps to keep the game going. The dogs have figured out a way to make the game work that provides each with some satisfaction.
Here is the game that they have managed to organize on their own:
Step 1: (Insert any human here) _______________ throws a dog toy. Squeaky and bouncing objects are preferred, but the dogs will chase just about anything including socks or a chewed up frisbee that is one-tenth of its original size. It’s humorous to think they are so enthralled with a small piece of plastic.
Step 2: Race to see who can get the prized object first. Jake possesses a distinct advantage in snaring flying toys. He catches them 75% of the time. Lulu is in the below 5% range. It is much more likely to hit her in the nose or head. I try not to laugh at her, but that is a challenge. If the ball hits the ground, the odds even out. Lulu has reached the point of superior athletic ability, but Jake relies on his intelligence and plays the probabilities of where the object will go. For example, to amuse myself, I sometimes will throw a bouncing ball onto the roof. (It doesn’t take much to entertain me.) Lulu waits for it to come down, but Jake runs to a spot where he anticipates it will land.
Step 3: Lulu either gets to the toy or barks incessantly at Jake in frustration if he retrieves it first. She waits for the moment when he turns toward her and takes it away from him. He might turn his body away from her occasionally, but he doesn’t try very hard to prevent her from taking it away once he has it.
Step 4: Lulu prances around with the prized possession. Sometimes she pretends she is going to return it to the thrower and changes her mind and struts around some more. Her indecisiveness has the potential to end the game if we get tired of waiting for her to give it back. I think she is smart enough to understand this and eventually gets around to dropping the toy at the thrower’s feet.
The game ends when the person gets bored, or Lulu decides to lie down and keep the object. This system makes the game work, and each has a hand (make that a paw) in keeping the game going. Funny how things work in the world of dog hierarchy.
Sometimes when I’m messing around, (I imagine the dogs like playing with someone of similar mental ability.) I like to do little tests to measure their intelligence. Our house has two and a half bathrooms. The half bath is an odd setup because it has two doors. One door connects to the computer room and the other to the living room. (I know, having a bathroom next to a living room is pretty weird.) The bathroom is so small that I can reach both of the doors while on the toilet. Sometimes while I’m sitting, one of the dogs will show up with a ball. To amuse myself, (Once again, it doesn’t take much to entertain me.) I drop it outside the other door and then shut it to see what the dog will do. Jake, the crafty veteran, takes off before I’ve even dropped the ball and makes the loop to retrieve it. Lulu, not the sharpest tool in the shed, will sit and stare at the closed door for 5-10 seconds after the ball hits the ground. Suddenly, her light bulb goes off, (better late than never) and she sprints around to the other side.
Although Lulu is not the smartest dog, she has many other redeeming qualities. When it comes to sweet and loving dogs, Lulu is everybody’s friend. It feels good to be loved, and she always thumps her tail in excitement whenever we’re near. She also is one of the best watchdogs we’ve ever owned. That barking comes in handy sometimes. On Wednesday nights I have to remember to put out the garbage can. We have a dog door which connects our third garage (their bedroom) to the outside pen. When I’m taking out the trash, I can always count on Lulu’s greeting, regardless of the time. Since food is not involved, Jake remains sleeping soundly on his dog bed.
One of the risks of being a delivery driver is you are going to encounter dogs. Hopefully, the dogs are friendly and don’t interfere with a driver doing his/her job. Jake and Lulu have formed quite the relationship with our UPS driver. Go brown! Perhaps I should add this to Jake’s dating profile: (Enjoys men in uniform) These days I do a lot of typing at my computer, and the dogs are frequently in the house with us during the day now that we’re retired. When they hear the sound of the UPS driver’s truck, they run to greet him. Yes, they are friendly dogs, but they also know that food comes with these visits. At first, I was embarrassed when I realized they were climbing into the truck with him. “Hey, dogs. Didn’t your parents ever warn you about getting rides from strangers?” The first time it happened, I ran outside to gather my dogs, but the driver was enjoying himself too much. Someday I’m going to have to film this beautiful love story. Now, this has evolved into another routine for them:
Step 1: Wait for the sound of the UPS truck and spring into action.
Step 2: Climb into the truck with great enthusiasm in a most-friendly manner with lots of tail wagging and excitement.
Step 3: After the driver has completed the delivery, wait for the inevitable dog biscuits that their friend will provide them.
Step 4: (This is the highlight of the visit for the dogs and me.) Jump from the truck to pursue the dog biscuits that their friend has tossed from the open door. While they are tracking down their grub, the driver makes his quick getaway. The old diversion trick works every time.
Perhaps you think I am exaggerating for story effect, but I assure you that I’m not. The relationship between the UPS driver and the dogs has reached a whole new level. Sometimes he makes deliveries on the dead-end street behind our fence. One day we couldn’t figure out why our dogs were barking. The UPS driver (I have yet to learn his name, but it’s time that he met the parents.) also heard them carrying on and backed his truck down the street. He promptly tossed two dog biscuits over the fence and drove off. Is that sweet or what?
Two weeks ago, we drove up to the house (Jake and Lulu were in their pen.) and saw a package waiting for us on the front porch. Jake has a digestive problem that requires a specialized type of dog food. It wasn’t unusual to see the box there as we order his food every three weeks. There was one pleasant surprise on top of the package: two dog biscuits. “Just what are your intentions with our dogs, young man?” Too cute!!!
By now you can tell that our dogs are important to us. I guess I’ll leave you with this thought, “If you’re going to be my friend, then you’d better like dogs. They are part of the family.”