Why did you get a dog?

Lion with Matilda, a guest dog.

One day, I was upstairs writing and Dandylion was downstairs barking. I did NOT want to answer the door. I said “thank you!” several times, and finally, sighing, I went downstairs to see what the dog was barking at.

He was staring at the woodstove, barking his head off. The temperature gauge on the stovepipe was far above the dangerous red line. Chimney fire! Apparently a chimney fire makes noise! Who knew?!? I shut down the stove, gave Lion leftover chicken, called the fire department.

If Dandylion had been “obedient,” he would have shut up the first instant I said “thank you.” And the house might have burnt down, with me in it!

Canine eyes, ears, sense of smell are different than ours. Dogs can understand and do and know things that we can’t do or know. I like that. I want my dogs to trust me enough that they can disagree with me sometimes, and tell me what they know.

Once, we were fixing an old boat on a dock in Puerto Rico. It was nighttime, we were sleeping when Tigerlily started going nuts. I guessed feral cats, and told her “Thank you!” But she kept on barking, waking up the whole marina, racing up on deck, staring into the water, so I had no choice, I had get up. And oh look, there’s a teenager in snorkle gear getting ready to steal our dinghy! Good girl Tigerlily. Another time she woke us up barking because a junked ghost ship had broken off a mooring and was drifting up, about to smash into us. I learned to appreciate the value of seemingly “naughty” (confident, independent, communicative) behaviors.

Another time, I was renting out the house we’d built for extra summer income, and we were living in a nearby funky cabin. Our renter came to our gate needing some sort of assistance, and my dog Bee (this is well after Lion had passed away) went nuts, barking at the guy. How embarrassing! That’s my paying client! I’m afraid I spoke sharply to her. Stop that! Sit! So Bee gives me a look, but she is a good girl and she sits, I open the gate and the guy falls through, grabbing me on his way down, drunk as a skunk. Fortunately my husband was home and came out to see what the commotion was all about, but I apologized to Bee, and vowed never again to disrespect her when she was trying to tell me something.

Bee with my granddaughter.

Many many years before these dogs, I had a wonderful smooth coated St. Bernard, Sampson. I was working double shifts dispatching emergency services at a police department 4 pm til 8 am, and during the day me and Sampson would go to the local pond. I’d swim and sleep and he would just hang out, sleeping beside me, good as gold. One day I woke up and he was barking, I’ve never before or since heard barking like that, it was more like ROARING, circling around me.

I looked up to see three men headed towards me, with shovels on their shoulders. They were actually headed towards a little cranberry bog dike that was on the other side of me, to shovel it out. I tried to take Sampson’s collar, but he wouldn’t let me touch him. He just pranced in a circle around me, daring them to take one step closer. The workmen were forced to veer off, a big detour. My dog didn’t settle down til he saw them starting to shovel out the dike.

So, while I compete and train in obedience, I appreciate some “dis-obedience” in my dogs! Brains are good. I don’t want dogs to stop thinking. I try to help them develop their brains. I try to be more like their guru, and less like a prison guard.

If we are going to work or play together effectively, they need to trust and understand me. I need to understand them. So I’m not so much aiming to “command” them around , but we’re building skills so we can share a better life. I have dogs because there are things we can know and do with dogs that we could never do without dogs. Why do you have your dogs?

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