Retrieving is uncertain work

Creative Commons license.
Creative Commons license.

Lab Lines
Robert Benson

Retrieving is uncertain work.
Fetch him bright fragrant feathers dead,
He grins and pats his gratitude.
But barf a scented toad beside his bed,
He screams, slams doors and me.

A still warm, gay and bloody duck,
He kneels and gathers like a grail.
But bring up week-old possum warm,
His voice goes grim; his face turns pale.
It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.

Balls or bumpers, birds and toads,
I think it should be none or all.
Last night I urped a knot of tennis net;
Picky bastard won’t ever get the ball.
I’m keeping the next duck too.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Dog poems = always good for a Friday laugh. But it’s also catalyst for a bit of reflection: Isn’t it interesting how vastly our perceptions of appropriate/inappropriate vary when compared with our dogs? It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.

The dogs of Davidson

Although I didn’t spend a ton of time with dogs this week, here’s what I learned from the two dogs I saw during my weekend with my family:


My father and his true love, Dublin. Source: Grace Farson Photography

Dublin is a three-year-old chocolate lab mix who belongs to our dear friends and neighbors, a family with two young girls. Dublin was adopted her as a puppy from an adoption drive in our home town. My father, who loves dogs like I do, has adopted Dubs as his own dog most of the time. She adores him, too, which I think is quite evident from the photo above.

She’s very smart and great with the girls, Ally and Kate, who are 9 and 7. Dad plays Frisbee with her almost daily and has taught her to retrieve the disc by name and to get into different formations with a command (telling her “cross” means that she’ll run into the other yard and wait for the disc to be thrown over the fence). She’s excellent with the Frisbee and hardly ever misses a catch. Like most retrievers, she could play all day long. Dad has also recently taken to bringing her canoeing with him on Lake Norman, an activity that she reportedly loves.

Our best guess is that Dublin is mostly a lab, but we think she may also have some pit bull in her lineage, due to her stockiness and the shape of her muzzle. Dublin was a very excitable puppy, but now that she is three, she has the ability to calm down considerably and temper her activity level to those around her.

I saw her display this ability when I took her on a walk on Saturday afternoon with her young charges, Ally and Kate. The girls were especially keen to walk her on the leash and I decided that Dublin seemed calm enough to be handled by them. I was a little nervous about it–since I’d walked her before and she’d been like a firecracker–but Dublin walked sweetly and calmly by these little girls and was generally perfect the whole time. The only exception was when she saw squirrels darting around campus. I told the girls to just drop the leash if she started charging after a squirrel. This happened a few times and was an infinitely preferable situation than having the girls get their faces skinned up by being dragged along the sidewalk by this strong, stocky dog.

Overall, Dublin taught me that:

  • Lab mixes can excel at Frisbee.
  • High-energy dogs can reach a state of calmness–eventually.
  • A three-year-old dog is very different, energy-wise, than a one-year-old dog.
  • The mark of a great family dog is a dog, who even though young, can temper her activity level to her child companions.


A golden retriever puppy. Not Dally, but they look pretty identical! Source: Daily Puppy

This is not Dally, but this fluffy puppy looks nearly identical to her. Our neighbors across the street, who have three young children, bought Dally as an 8-week-old puppy from a breeder in Oak Ridge (I think from this kennel). She’s now probably 11 or 12 weeks old and just as fuzzy and adorable as ever. Naturally, I had to go over and meet her–along with the rest of my family.

The family’s gorgeous backyard is partially fenced, but they don’t worry about sweet Dally, who was patiently waiting for her humans to return on the brick stoop outside. She bounded up to us, rolled over, kissed our legs, and playfully mouthed our hands. I was surprised at how gentle she was at mouthing; most retriever puppies I’ve met love to chomp their needle-sharp teeth into soft human hands, but Dally seemed somehow aware that gentleness was required. I wondered if this was something her doting family had already taught her.

Like all good goldens, Dally was extremely attentive and sweet toward all types of people and displayed no signs of fear when met with men, women, and children of all sizes (our family fairly swarmed their backyard). She also seemed very smart; I was impressed that she immediately obeyed the command “sit” from the family’s energetic 7-year-old daughter.

What I learned from Dally:

  • A golden retriever puppy is one of God’s greatest and most adorable gifts to humankind.
  • Families with young children should just get golden retrievers. Don’t even look at a terrier. Or any toy breed. Just get a golden. There’s a reason why they’re so popular with families with kids; their temperaments seem ideally suited to the hectic lifestyle of a young, busy family.

Pup links!

Two classy broads. Source: Miss Moss

Interesting pup-related links from around the web…

A retriever in the lake. These photos are so gorgeous and peaceful. I love Shirley Bittner’s work. (My Everyday Life, Shirley Bittner)

Farnham Park Flyball. I always love a good series of photos of herding dogs in action. (An English Shepherd)

Honoring Animal Heroes. Every year, Purina nominates some dogs and cats to go in their Animal Hall of Fame. These pets are pretty awesome and, I admit, their heroic stories made me tear up a little. (Rescuing Insanity)

Causes of Death Vary by Breed. This shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who’s read about the dangerous genetics of purebred dogs, but it is an interesting and helpful study to be aware of. (The Bark)

Top 5 Myths about Dog Behavior and Children. A helpful overview of the myths that people perpetuate about the interactions between dogs and children. (The Dog Training Secret)

Artist Anna Dibble and Her Unforgettable Dogs. Anna Dibble makes lovely–and un-tacky!–paintings of pooches. (City Dog/Country Dog)

Peonies and Rain Don’t Mix. Martha Stewart’s team writes a blog from the perspective of her French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharky, and, I have to admit, it’s pretty adorable. (The Daily Wag)

DIY Pet ID Tags. Speaking of Martha Stewart, check out this great template for making pet ID tags at home! She’s the best. (Martha Stewart)

Puppy’s First Year: Time-Lapse Video. OK, this is a cool idea. Watch this German shepherd puppy grow up! (Paw Nation)

How to Run with a Dog. Tips from a pro about running with your dog. (That Mutt)

Breed Love: Golden retriever

Happy puppy
This is my friend's golden, Bo. I pretend that he's my dog. Source: Me

To be honest, I never considered getting a golden retriever until I met Bo. In my early dog obsession years, I’d always considered them too popular and “too American” (whatever that meant) for my serious consideration. I was a herding breed girl, after all; no time for sloppy retrievers. Then I met Bo. Bo is an almost two-year-old golden who belongs to my friend Liz. She’s a busy single lady and so I come over a few times a week to walk Bo when she’s out. Believe me, walking him is the highlight of my week!

During my time with Bo, I’ve learned a lot of things about goldens. From what I can tell, he’s an excellent representative of his breed. Goldens are incredibly smart and unbelievably easy to train. Liz has done a great job with Bo and works with him on obedience and tricks; because of this foundation, Bo  learns new commands or cues from me in minutes (he’s also very motivated by cheese). Goldens are extremely people-oriented. Bo wants to love on every man, woman, or child we pass on a walk. As soon as another human or dog approaches, his gorgeous plumed tail starts swishing and a smile breaks out over his face. Aussies and a lot of herding breeds are just not like that; they’re far more wary of strangers. I love this golden trait and yet it surprised me at the same time. His exuberant friendliness often makes me think of the retriever in the animated film “Up!” who says to new people, “I have just met you and I love you.” This is Bo.

Goldens, as I’ve learned from Bo, could retrieve all day long. Sometimes, when I come to pick him up for a walk, he refuses to come out with me. What dog doesn’t want to go for a walk? Well, this dog who has dropped a ball at my feet and would rather retrieve… for five hours. His cute body just quivers with excitement whenever I pick up a ball or a stick. It’s adorable. I wish I had the time to play with him all day long.

Bo, hanging out in our apartment with me. Shh, don't tell our landlord! Source: Me

I often tell Liz that I think Bo is the perfect dog. He might be. He’s beautiful, affectionate, intelligent, loyal, friendly, and athletic. What’s not love? I get nervous sometimes when I think about getting my own puppy because deep down, I’m convinced that he or she could never be as awesome as Bo is. Liz often reminds me, though, that I’m seeing the slightly more matured Bo, the Bo that she’s been working with for many tireless months now; I didn’t know him when he was a crazy, goofy, destructive puppy. Liz deserves all the credit with this guy, that’s for sure. Because he’s a beautiful and exceptional dog.

Here’s my reasons why I’d go for a golden. And the very few reasons why I wouldn’t.

Golden retriever pros:

  • Highly trainable and very intelligent.
  • Athletic.
  • Affectionate. So cuddly! So loving!
  • Devoted.
  • Super with all people and children, especially, if well socialized.

Golden retriever cons:

  • Not a protective bone in their bodies. All people are their best friends. If someone robbed your house, a golden would probably show the burglar where you kept your jewelry, just to be helpful.
  • Lots of chewing.
  • High energy.
  • ?? I can’t think of any other cons. I think Bo is perfect.

Purely on the basis of these lists I’ve been making, it would seem evident that I should just get a golden retriever. However, I’m basing this almost entirely on Bo. Whom I love. So, maybe it’s just that I want my dog to be exactly like him…

Golden retriever links: