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.

Thanksgiving recap: First trip to in-laws

Pyrrha had a wonderful first Thanksgiving with us and a very successful first visit to her other set of “grandparents,” my husband’s parents. I was very proud of her.

She thinks she owns the place

General recap:

Pyrrha handled the revolving door of new people with grace and aplomb. We had tons of relatives and new people in and out of the house all week, and Pyrrha was marvelous with everyone. She still hung back in the beginning, when people showed up, but she did not seem disturbed at all by the constant flow of strangers in this new house. I felt like that was a big victory. Everyone also kept marveling at how calm she was. I think this is because a) she is fundamentally lazy, and b) flopping down in a corner is less scary than having to go up and engage with new humans. However, she wanted to be wherever people were, and she was always planting herself down in the middle of the kitchen or living room, keeping an eye on the action.

She also met children without (too) much fear. Guion’s young cousins, aged 12 and 7, attended the Thanksgiving meal and they were both very interested in Pyrrha. (Their family had recently acquired a young, energetic German short-haired pointer.) I always monitor her interactions with young children VERY closely, because I can tell that she is still pretty unsure of children. Guion’s cousins, however, were really great with her. They are calm, quiet children and they seemed to make her feel a little less anxious about their presence.

After the photo below was taken, I took Pyrrha out in the backyard on her leash and the kids followed. In the yard, she sniffed and circled the kids and even kissed their faces and hands. It helped a lot that both kids had been eating sausage biscuits right before! Now if I can just get all young children to cover themselves in sausage before interacting with Pyrrha, I think we could have her fear of children mostly solved…

Rollie IV meets Pyrrha

We took lots of long, brisk walks around the neighborhood. They have a lovely, mostly flat neighborhood that’s great for walking and Pyrrha got at least two miles of walks in every day we were there. (This also surely contributed to her general behavior of calmness and placidity in the house.)

Following birds

Pyrrha also showed interest in retrieving for the first time! My in-laws have a great, spacious, fenced-in backyard and Pyrrha just loved it. Their yard is chock-full of squirrels and there’s lot to explore. Plus, the yard backs up to a golf course, so she spent many hours quietly observing the golfers.

But retrieving! That was great. She’s never really retrieved before, except for chasing the thrown item, picking it up for a moment, and then getting distracted by something else. But this long weekend, she was retrieving actively — running after balls and actually bringing them back to us multiple times. She seemed to really enjoy this a lot.

Fetch with Guion

I was delighted, of course. Retrieving is the best way to exhaust a dog without having to expend any of your own energy. I hope she’ll keep up an interest in this game.

Retrieving at last!

And a semi-dog-related event we attended: The Blessing of the Hunt. My in-laws live in a big equestrian town, and every Thanksgiving morning, there is a “fox” hunt and a blessing of the horses, hounds, and riders by their Episcopal priest. Hundreds of people turn out for this event and I was delighted to attend — particularly as there was no actual fox being chased. They drag around a fox scent before the dogs are released.

We heard, however, that the hounds aren’t fooled by this faux fox scent. They don’t really seem to follow it, according to the riders, and really just like to run around in a pack with the horses. I find this kind of adorable.

Release the hounds!

Hounds setting off

Riding off after the "fox"

Hope you all had nice weekends! Whew! I am looking forward to a few weeks of respite before the holiday traveling circuit starts up again…

Jobs for a herding breed?

Dog Agility Trials
An Australian shepherd at an agility trial. Source: Flickr user oxherder

As you probably know by now, I’m very fond of the herding breeds. My top three choices for a dog right now would be a German shepherd, an Australian shepherd, or a rough collie. These are all very intelligent breeds with a well-deserved reputation for being high-maintenance dogs. Not high maintenance like a pampered Maltese, though. These dogs are high maintenance because they were bred for their considerable intelligence and their overpowering drive to work.

If left to their own devices, GSDs, Aussies, and collies become difficult, destructive, and occasionally dangerous dogs. In all of my reading and my interaction with these breeds, I’ve come to learn this full well. I know that most herding dogs come with a caveat emptor.

The standard advice for someone planning to get a high energy dog is to be sure to have “a job” for the dog to perform. I’ve heard this a lot and I often repeat it to other people, but if I’m honest, I don’t always know what that means. Since I don’t have a flock of sheep handy, what qualifies as a “job” for my future herding dog?

Here are some of the little “jobs” that I’ve been contemplating teaching our future dog, in the absence of actual herding:

  • Agility, if the dog is so inclined. There are a number of agility classes around here. I know that Aussies often excel at agility, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a GSD or a collie in an agility trial.
  • Rally obedience.
  • Retrieving games. So long as the dog enjoys retrieving, we will have him retrieve everything: Tennis balls, toys by name, his leash, our slippers, etc.
  • Obedience trials. This might not qualify as a job, but regular and ritualized obedience training would at least give his mind something to do.
  • Trick training.
  • Therapy work. I would love to be able to train a dog to visit schools or nursing homes.

Does your household (non-working) dog perform any jobs? If so, what are they? Any you would recommend? I’m all ears!