We are watching my grandkids’ dog, or at least I think it’s a dog. It looks like a black and white dust mop with legs. Our Airedale terrier weighs about eighty pounds and my grandkids’ dog weighs about eight pounds. The Airedale has to lie down for them to play, but they still play now and then.
What they do a lot is bark. If one of the dogs barks the other one barks. It’s a rule. If you’re a dog and another dog barks you have to bark, too. If you don’t you get kicked out of the dog union. The dogs will be doing their important jobs of sleeping when suddenly one of them will bark. The other will wake up and bark to fulfill the union contract. For awhile they run around barking as if Al Qaeda has just shown up to plant an IED. They run from window to window barking and then stop suddenly and look at each other to see if the other one knows why they were barking. After a bit they sniff each other’s butts which is like a doggie high-five.
Our dog: I guess we showed whoever a thing or two. Sniff sniff.
The grand kid’s dog: You got that right. They won’t be messing with us again. Sniff sniff. Hey, when did they give you bacon?
They lie back down, secure in the knowledge that if Al Qaeda had tried something the early warning system would have worked perfectly, and then one of them barks again.
It’s funny how people train their dogs in different ways and how sometimes the dog trains the people. A long time ago I heard dog training expert Barbara Woodhouse say, “You need to train your dog to do its business when you want and not when it wants.” With all our dogs we have followed that axiom. I think the dust mop’s business is importing Ming Dynasty porcelain, because she doesn’t have a clue about pooping. When we take our Airedale for a walk, we take her to a road just outside the city limits where she does her thing. Afterward we take her for a walk in town. The reason we do this is so she doesn’t saddle us with the embarrassment of doing her job on a busy street corner with thirteen gazillion people and three tour buses going by. (The street corner would be her favorite spot if we let her pick it. She likes an audience.) When she’s done, I pick up the poop in a plastic bag while my wife helps out by turning her back, gagging and doing everything she can to keep from puking. My grandkids’ dog hasn’t figured the routine out yet. We will be walking down the deserted road and the big dog will be done with its business, but the dust mop is still importing porcelain.
My wife has a firm belief that all creatures, humans and beasts, can understand English if you just say the words slowly enough and loudly enough. “YOU NEED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM,” she’ll say as if the dog is sitting on the other side of a concrete wall. The dog wags its tail happily but no poop comes forth. “SHE CAN’T FIND HER POOP SPOT,” my wife says to me, still talking through the wall. Of course she can’t find her poop spot. It’s ninety miles away at my grandkids’ house, and no, we’re not taking her there. Eventually she goes, but we never have a clue when or where it will happen.
Taking the dogs for walks is interesting. There are always kewpie doll-sized dogs on chains and cables in yards. When we walk by with the big dog, the little dogs go nuts pulling at their restraints and barking fiercely, as if to say, “You’re lucky I’m on this chain or I’d be kicking some Airedale butt.” Our Airedale ignores them. She doesn’t even bark. The union gives her a waiver because she’s not sure it’s a dog or a rat that barks. Our grandkids’ dog on the other hand goes nuts right back at them, saying, “You’re lucky I’m on this leash or I’d be kicking some kewpie doll butt.” I’m sure if they were loose there would be a lot of butt sniffing but not so much butt kicking.
If we’re walking and our dog sees a rabbit, she’ll take a couple steps toward it and growl. The bunny will hop off with our dog watching. Our dog never even reaches the end of her leash. I’m convinced she just likes to see them run. If our grandkids’ dog sees a rabbit she pulls at the end of the leash, growling, snarling and slobbering like a Tasmanian devil…and the rabbit never moves. It just sits there thinking: I can take the little one. You’re lucky you’re on that leash Fido, or I’d be kicking some dust mop butt. We only have the dog for a few more days. Maybe things will get better. If not, I guess we’ll survive, and the Ming porcelain looks great in our house.
Read an excerpt from In The Sticks