Monday, September 1, 2014

Conversations About Dogs with Dog Folk

   Annie Wilkes was closer to sixty than fifty. Quiet in a crowd, even with her own group. She had wary eyes, and the prairie wind constantly blew her tousled, unkempt hair into her eyes. Her shaky health made her unsure, the betrayal of her body made her restless and sad.
    "I had no idea what I was getting into. He wasn't even the dog I went to see.  He's the smartest dog I've ever had in my life. Also the most arrogant, mischievous and neediest, all wrapped up in a fluffy OCD package," she said.

   Mad Maxine was intelligent, sleek, beautiful and fit. She wore black, it highlighted her thick strawberry blond ponytail, pale skin and shiny black dog. A military career made her confident and gave her very good posture. She moved with power and grace, and was completely intimidating. Her dog was as lean and fit as she.
   "Your dog should be working on a ranch, people don't think before they get a dog, they get one because it's pretty, then everybody pays. If a person needs a pet than they should get a lap dog with medium intelligence at best," she said.

"Adult rescue dogs are notoriously unsuited for farm and ranch work. They have enough to overcome to become a decent pet, much less become a working dog,"

"The reason they're so screwed up is because people get dogs they have no business having," Mad Maxine said.

"Exactly my point. My dog was a three time return to the pound when I adopted him. He was never, ever going to see a ranch. Now that he's with me, he's been exposed to horses, cattle, goats, barn fowl...funny thing is, he has absolutely no interest in any of them. His primary focus is to keep me safe. He's the one bright light in a very difficult time of my life."

A long, uneasy silence ensued. Annie Wilkes raked her hair back with her fingers.

The young woman squared her shoulders and put a hands on each knee . It was clear she wasn't the type to fiddle with her hair. "When I picked my dog I knew exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a hiking companion. The bitch was a purebred shepherd and the stud cleared an eight-foot fence."

"I guess you knew they'd be athletic."

 "The pups were structurally correct with good temperaments. I visited the litter several times, sat with them and watched them. I didn't want the biggest or the smallest. I rejected the ones that crawled all over me and the ones that were shy."

"That was certainly pragmatic of you."

"There were four that were right in the middle. One was happy and playful when I messed with her, but when I ignored her, she walked off a few feet, sat down and studied me while I played with the other pups. I knew she was the one and she's been perfect."

"That's exactly how my Dad picked his hunting dogs when I was growing up. He could pick outstanding dogs. I tend to go with my gut."

"You mean you are completely emotional instead of realistic."

"I think it's more of an instinctive feel that I trust instead of following a guide from a how-to-pick-a-puppy article off the 'net. I was one of those kids that stray dogs followed home and I got along with all of them. I like dogs and they like me. I had specifics in mind when we chose each other too. I wanted a big dog, I like herding breeds, I knew I would eventually need a service dog, so I wanted brains. I need to walk an hour every day. He definitely met my criteria."

"Everybody likes dogs. I just think it's unfair to them if they live in a world they don't fit in. There's so much risk when you adopt a stray. You don't know what's been done with them or if they're structurally sound. I'd like to hunt my next dog. I'll probably go to Europe and get a couple of good ones, I'll raise them to be proper hunting dogs, I won't have to deal with unexpected problems, like shyness, aggression, or separation anxiety-- I'll know they're worth my investment." Mad Maxine stretched and crossed her legs at the ankles.

"I completely understand, "Annie Wilkes said. "If I was going to pursue this," she waved her hand towards the field where they worked their dogs, "I would invest in a sport specific breed. The thing is, I would never have learned this discipline, or met this group of people, if my dog hadn't brought me here.We came to resolve the training issues that he came with, found some talent, and now I'm learning something brand new."

"I'm only here because I ran out of things to teach my dog," Mad Maxine said." She has obstacles down pat, obedience was a walk in the park, Frisbee is a given, I have to keep her occupied." She reached out and stroked her dog's sleek, black coat.

Lenny Small was close to the older woman's  age, battered by life, gentle and a little tired. He followed the conversation with interest. His dog was a lovely shepherd, gentle like her owner. He leaned forward and looked earnestly at the young woman.
"Have you seen Annie's dog work? He's got the best obedience in the group and his protection work is coming on like a train. He's a nice dog."

"Thanks Lenny," Annie Wilkes smiled and leaned back in her chair. "You've missed a lot while you were waiting for your dog to heal from her surgery. My dog has come a long way. The guys seem to enjoy figuring out his off the wall mind-set. Your dog tore an ACL?"

"Both hind legs." The young woman grimaced.

"Wow, that's awful. How old is she?"

"Almost three."

"That's terrible. I'm so sorry. I hadn't even heard of an ACL surgery before I came here. Thank goodness our trainer, Clyde Beatty  taught me how important it is to work young dogs low until they're two. It never would have occurred to me to wait to let my dog jump for his ball or over obstacles if it wasn't for him."

"It doesn't matter, I got her to hike with, so my goal is to get her to where she can hike again and be happy with that. I'll make sure my next dog has the breeding to stay sound."

"So you think it's poor breeding that made her tendons snap instead of a training decision, or, like it could have been if I hadn't listened to Clyde, a lack of knowledge?"

The pause grew until Lenny Small broke in.
"Breeding doesn't always run true. Look at my girl here. She's Czech bred, from a long line of competitive and working dogs, but she has no bite, none at all. Her brother, on the other hand, is a maniac."

Clyde Beatty entered the conversation.
"There's more to the story than that. Our "maniac" was a middle-of--the-litter puppy. He was loaded with prey drive, but had a decent temperament. He was almost two before he turned on, and then we got more than we needed. He's a great dog, but we still don't trust him with the public. Sometimes you can have genetics and training in place and still not get what you were looking for."

"This comes back to the draw for adoption or rescue," Annie said."I was able to assess my dog's temperament and conformation before I committed, because he was older. I'm not an expert, but once a dog is a year or so I can spot things like bad hips and shoulders or erratic behavior."

"Except you said yourself, you came here because he was much more dog than you expected and you've talked about his anxiety and separation problems," the young woman said.

"That's true, I think where you're missing my point when you assume I care about those things. I like dogs. I like learning new things. I'm as interested in learning how to help his separation anxiety as I am teaching him to stop an intruder.When I get a dog, I can't wait to see where they take me. In my lifetime I learned to aim a few inches below a ducks feet in order to make my shot. No matter how I try, I jump when I pull the trigger. If I hadn't been hunting over a couple of good field labs I never would have known that. I learned when a good pair of vermin dogs is on the hunt, one is the runner and the other lies in wait. I've watched them strategise in order to hunt prairie dogs, pigeons, rabbit and mice. I learned a good basset hound can follow a three day old track and will never learn to quit getting high centered on a fallen tree. Now I'm learning how to train my own service dog and if you decide to try to hurt me, well, my dog will eat your ass." She smiled down at her dog. "This dog is a new adventure every day."

"I guess I want more control of my outcome," Mad Maxine said.

"You told me you ran out of things to do with your dog, which brought you here."

"Except I wanted an intelligent dog, I chose her on purpose."

"You certainly succeeded, just look at the adventures she has brought you."

Lenny Small looked over at Annie Wilkes and fondled the ears of his adored dog, who defied her breeding with her gentle soul. Annie smiled back, took the ball from her wound up, hairy beast and drew back to throw it out onto the field, taking care to keep her big galoot from stomping the sore hind legs of the beautiful black shepherd mix.

The conversation drifted to whether a Beuceron was better suited for guard or protection work as the sun rose high over the training field.


  1. Just before I came here, I was reading about shelter dogs and the reasons people give for turning them in. I was almost crying. I will probably try to adopt a dog one of these days, and will probably not be accepted by several rescues or shelters because I live on a farm and don't have a fenced in yard.

    I can get along with most types of dogs. I had an Aussie who was smarter than many people, had an unbelievable ability to solve problems, predict the behavior of everyone around him, and could manipulate people and dogs like a pro. I also have a 12 year old Swedish Vallhund (corgi with Shepherd coloring)who is more of a companion than a farm dog. We walk an hour a day, which I used to do with the Aussie too. They were also allowed outside with me when I did chores, worked horses or gardened. I know how to keep a dog without a fence and without tying. I may have to resort to buying another puppy, because I know the two breeders I bought from last time would sell me their puppies with or without a fence. When I look for a dog/puppy again, I will look for one who wants to be with me. That's all.

  2. Me again. Thanks for posting, the stalking was wearing me out.


  3. That was some beautiful verbal judo there Mugs.

    Nice to have you back.


  4. I like how you all seemed to be there because of the dogs, where Maxine was always talking, of course, about Maxine. Maybe she got it even though she did not say.

  5. Ditto on what redhorse said..... I've been checking and checking. Very thought provoking. I've never really thought about what I wanted to do with a dog before I got/adopted/rescued them.

  6. What was so interesting to me was the very valid points Maxine had, and the fact she was there to exercise the mind of a dog who was clearly much more than a dog to hike with. We had very similar challenges with our dogs. I do hope she'll quit looking at me as a stupid old woman who adopted a dog I can't handle. Luckily, Brockle is helping me prove myself every week.

  7. Glad to have you back Mugs. :-)

  8. I've been checking regularly, too ;)

    Good conversation all around; and it goes to show we can breed the best, look for the best, go with our gut... and it still seems to be a crapshoot!

    I think odds are each of those things works, but in the singular event, it's a crapshoot. Hope for the best, and "like the face looking at you over the door every morning" and it works out, eh Brockle?

  9. First, going to get my editing side out of the way.

    " "Thanks Lenny," Annie Wilkes smiled and leaned back in her chair. "You've missed a lot while you were waiting for your dog to heal from her surgery. My dog has come a long way. The guys seem to enjoy figuring out his off the wall mind-set. Your dog tore an ACL?" "

    I had to re-read the story a few times because right there I missed that "Annie" was no longer talking to Lenny, and was instead talking about Maxine's dog.

    Aside from that, it was an excellent bit of writing and very thought provoking. I can't help but compare Maxine to other "breed snobs" of all sorts of species, horses, dogs, fish, what have you, and how they all claim that picking from a specific bloodline will solve all problems. In the meantime, they have just as many issues to work through as non-standard breeds. Not that picking for certain traits (breeds) is a bad thing, it's just when humans are involved you'll get things like politics (breeding to win in the show ring instead of for soundness, for instance) influencing the outcome instead of what the goals should be.

  10. GrayDrakkon- I have never, in the history of this blog, corrected a comment or guest post for grammar, sentence structure or punctuation. It's how it works here. Leave me alone.

  11. You just have to deal with what you get. I have had a lab that would not fetch and hated water (rescue) and a sheltie (bred to show) that I could not keep out of the water (muddy slew, mud puddle, raging river). I learned to do agility with my lab, and started hunting with my sheltie. Both dogs were dear friends and great companions. They don't always fit in a box no mater how much you want them to.

  12. I told a friend recently that one day I hoped to buy a horse who was bred to do what I wanted instead of always having a horse that I tried to mold to do what I wanted.. then, I laughed at myself.. heck, that would mean I would actually have to settle on ONE goal and stick with it.. never been able to do that with a dog or horse! Just enjoy what unique abilities they have and enjoy what opportunities present themselves in my life.

    Maybe I am not goal driven enough? I don't think my dogs and horses suffer too much from it!

  13. I had a looong comment going about buying animals that are bred for the job...then I realized it was a post. Guess I'm back.

  14. hehehe .. You can't help it :-) You've got a lot of good stuff in that brain of yours that you need to keep sharing with us.

  15. So easy to get tripped up by judgements and assumptions.

    There is a training center in my city that specializes in training service dogs with their owners. It is their policy to let the owner choose whatever dog they want for their service animal. Along with a lot of nice teams, this policy has also produced some notable train wrecks. So maybe I can be forgiven for casting a jaundiced eye on a Rottie mix that came in for his pretraining health exam 12 years ago. It wasn't the breed - I've owned Rotties for 30 years - it was his determined effort to bite me while I tried to trim his nails that had me muttering unkind things about suitability and temperament. We muzzled 5 month old Chief, trimmed his nails and sent him on his way.

    Chief passed his training and testing and settled in with his owner, a young man incapacitated by seizures and the drugs that went with them. This guy and his mother live together on the bad side of town. Maybe when you live in a hard neighborhood you need a hard service dog. Chief never had any protection training, but he is a serious dog of the kind rarely seen these days. Twice he acted in defense of his master.

    The first incident happened when Chief was 3. He was out in his walled backyard when two guys tried to break in. A neighbor saw them testing the doors and windows of the house, and called the cops. She was in her own backyard next door, listening as the two decided if they would climb the wall to get in to Chief's house from the rear. They scoffed at the Beware Of Dog sign. "I don't see no dog, they just put that sign up". Chief had a hole he'd dug in the backyard, and when he heard those two men he'd gone and laid down it, out of sight, and perfectly silent. One man climbed over the wall. As his feet hit the ground Chief exploded from hiding at a dead run. The guy went back over the fence at warp speed, but one foot ended up in Chief's jaws, and the cops took him to the hospital before he went to the station.

    The second incident happened last year. Chief's owner was home alone, recovering from a stroke that had left him temporarily paralyzed and unable to speak. Lying in his bed he heard someone trying to break in through a window in another room. Completely helpless, he lay there as Chief quietly left his side and walked into the hall. The sounds of the window being jimmied and slowly starting to lift suddenly halted with an audible "Oh Shit" when the intruder noticed 90 pounds of silent menace visible through the doorway to the hall. Only then did Chief growl and charge. They found the thief's tools where he dropped them as he fled.

    Chief still comes to get his nails trimmed. He knows us, he knows the drill, and we never had to muzzle him after the first time.

  16. MARYDVM,

    That is an awesome story.

  17. If I had commented on a misspelled word and you were offended by that, I'd understand. My comment wasn't to make you feel bad about your writing at all, it was to say that I, and I can guess some other readers, was confused by how that particular sentence changed targets with no warning. If I didn't like your writing, I wouldn't have commented, because I wouldn't have cared enough to try and puzzle out why the nice guy's dog suddenly was described differently (which it turns out it wasn't, after I re-read a couple times). I thought I made it clear that I thought your writing was quite good, and the story itself interesting. That you took away that I'm yelling at you how you're writing was bad was not my intention.

  18. We have a Schnauzer, pure bred, because I love terriers, and when we were deciding on a breed that would suit our life and plans for a family, the Schnauzer is reportedly the most chilled out of all the terrier breeds.
    I have found, now having owned several, that there are sort of two camps in Schnauzer- the dogs that everyone remembers as the best dog they've ever had, and the ones everyone remembers as the worst dogs their grandma ever had, that bit them when they were children, in fact.
    I currently have the best dog I've ever had- just suits me right down to the ground. But I have also re-homed two schnauzers that were timed, watchful, growly, and self protective. Dogs I had raised since they were pups, and had never harmed them in their lives. It was just the way they were.
    I now pick pups in a mesh of Mad Maxine and Mugs- I want a dog that is a bit independant, quiet, middle of the pack type. The one that just stands out it my mind/heart. That has served me pretty well.

    And Grey Drakkon- we're all adults here that have been reading for awhile now, we can figure it out for ourselves, you don't have to worry about us.

  19. Having posted that last night I realized that was a mistake. You very clearly told me to leave, and I should have done just that. Sucks since I've been a long time reader/commenter, but I realize that doesn't mean you know me or that I have any right to your blog, open comments or no.

  20. This is why cloning pets won't work. You get the body,but you get another mind.

  21. Gray Dakkon Of course I didn't tell you to leave. I want this blog to be about stories, training and that's it. Damn, another post called for.

  22. This is LENNY SMALL. I don't usually look at blogs but since I was "immortalized" on this one I checked it out. I think Janet/ANNIE is a very good writer and I find myself reading her stories and thouroughly enjoying them. I really don't remember much of the conversation that day...
    Thanks Lenny S.

  23. Clyde HMT Beatty: Annie did a wonderful job of shredding Mad Maxine without having to even raise her voice. I had missed most of the conversation, but Annie nailed it. As a trainer, I've said this a million times, and I willsay it again: Welcome to my nightmare! People like Mad Maxine are the bane of my existence. Needless to say, shewill no longer be joining us in our continued experience, education, and the pure enjoyment brought to us by our dogs. As a post script, Mad Maxine is fortunate that I was not present at the beginning of the coversation. PC means Personal Computer to me, and I have no problem nuking someone in public, especially when it comes to my friends. Great job, Annie, and can't wait to see you and that furry knucklehead again soon!

  24. Clyde HMT Beatty: Annie did a wonderful job of shredding Mad Maxine without having to even raise her voice. I had missed most of the conversation, but Annie nailed it. As a trainer, I've said this a million times, and I willsay it again: Welcome to my nightmare! People like Mad Maxine are the bane of my existence. Needless to say, shewill no longer be joining us in our continued experience, education, and the pure enjoyment brought to us by our dogs. As a post script, Mad Maxine is fortunate that I was not present at the beginning of the coversation. PC means Personal Computer to me, and I have no problem nuking someone in public, especially when it comes to my friends. Great job, Annie, and can't wait to see you and that furry knucklehead again soon!