Thursday, October 11, 2012

Canine companion

The dog chooses us

I remember her face the best on the day I walked into that flower shop. She was there with her sister, and the two of them turned to look at me when the bell on the door chimed, sounding a customer arrival. She was the shorter of the two, with a curious look in her eye, standing in a mischievous pose next to the violet rhododendron. Her hair was a startling, stark black, while her sister was bubbly and blonde. Oh, young love.

They certainly wasted no time with introductions. By the time I had taken two steps into the doorway, the pair of them had run towards me and were now wriggling on their backs for tummy rubs and jumping at my knees for attention. These were the cutest puppies I had ever seen.

Sure, I like to think of myself as a manly man, but my heart melted that day. As it turned out, the little black puppy was the last of the litter unspoken for; though I speculated it was due to her definable quirkiness, and I had little resources to take care of myself much less a young canine, I could hardly say no. I was like a kid in a candy store or a petting zoo. I flashed back to my days as a youngster, begging my parents to take me to the local pet store several times a week.

Three days later I went back to the flower shop, and this time I wasn't there for flowers. I took home the tiny black dog, and after some short deliberations, decided on a name. I would call her Bean. She was a munchkin, a dark little thing that jumped around on her hind legs like a kangaroo. Her bulging eyes and goofy ears (one sticking up, one hanging down) made her into an instant hit with everyone that met her. Her minuscule size and prancing gate still garner the same reaction from new human friends - "What is that?" Her constant persistence that she's a much larger animal than she really is still cracks me up, especially when she meets large breed friends like golden retrievers or husky mixes.

When I was first training her as a puppy, I would get frustrated with the messes she would make, her inability to walk in the snow, or when she would run away from me when I was trying to pick her up. Now that she's 2-years-old, however, she is better trained, and so am I.

Bean has taught me patience above all else. She has also taught me a great deal of responsibility, but there is nothing quite like a hyper young dog who prefers tag over fetch to develop the patience virtue. It does not work to get mad at her and wish she would simply know exactly what I want her to do. Instead, it’s a process thing. Little by little she needs a routine to help build consistency, to learn new things and change her behavior.

I tease her all the time, for being ditzy, for jumping from one distraction to another. One time she ran full speed into a doorstep, another time she jumped up onto the couch and fell off the back of it in the same motion. She also loves to terrorize the cats, nipping at their tails to get their attention, then running circles around them as fast as she can. I like to think when she’s doing this that she’s thinking in her head “look at me, look at me, look how fast I am!” I think a fair comparison for Bean is to a certain yellow dog, in a certain popular comic strip, about a certain lazy orange cat. Bean isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but I think that's why we get along so well - she's not judging me.

Many people are symbiotic with dogs. Chiefly, we can exercise the patience, determination, and goal setting it takes to train a dog, and they benefit from the structure and the bond they form with us in the process. In return we gain a friend who in a way reflects ourselves, who does not have external motives that cloud their allegiance to us. Have you ever met a dog who turned down going on a walk? The dog you really spend time with, and truly commit to working with will never betray you, it's against their constitution.

Sometimes I think I should have a hunting dog. You know, a breed that's good at retrieving birds or tracking down game in the woods. Then I look at the Bean face or watch her get freaked out by her own tail, and the notion quickly fades. Maybe this winter I'll train her to like the snow, better buy her a sweater first.

“The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.”
- Samuel Butler

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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