The Working Dog and the Fancy Breed

10.26.08 | 3 Comments

Little boys love dogs.  As a toddler my son would trip right over and throw himself head long into a slobbery dog pile.  Wrestling seems to be second nature to Seth and the dogs, but not to me.  I recently asked Seth why he feels the need to rough house with me, he looked bemused and said, “this is how the dogs play”.

Dogs have an easy time transitioning between work and play.  Countless times I have seen our two old gals turn on a dime, from fierce squirrel chasers to frolicking old ladies performing play bows and presenting Kongs to one another. So when it came time for us to review the topic of dog maintenance we put down our Legos and reported for duty, tails wagging.

Grooming Amber

The first stop was the “dog drawer”. In the dog’s minds the most important item in the “dog drawer” are leashes. In Seth’s mind the most important item is the “Furminator”, a grooming tool with unbelievable yield. In the spirit of commingling work and play, I never let on that we are doing an undesirable task. As result Seth practically lunged for the yellow handled yuppie dog brush, while Amber ran off feigning a squirrel invasion. It took a while to coax her over to the grass for some well needed grooming.  But in the end, she acquiesced with the grace and patience of a well bred dog.

Amber, bless her heart is perhaps the world’s most excessive shedder. Even when groomed daily she still sheds everywhere. However, she was kind enough to lie down and be subjected to questionable attention from her charge. I learned the other day that it takes children 1500 repetitions of a task for the task to become part of their unconscious skill set. So needless to say, it will take a while for Seth to really get the hang of brushing a dog, learning the right pressure to apply, when to clean the hair from the brush, how to work around the collar. Not to mention learning to comfort the animal while he is working on her, and consciously looking out for her sore spots.

Grooming the Nest

Much to Amber’s good fortune, Seth soon had a handful of hair and was ready to add it to his “nest”. As far back as Seth can remember Grandpa has always had a dog and a dog brush. Grandpa has maintained that Amber’s hair should always be offered up as nesting material for the local bird population. When you are 3 you take advice from Grandpa very seriously. Which is why one day while fingering the dirt around the base of a Nandina I found that Seth had carefully crafted a bird nest out of dog hair for our clay quail. The nest has been revisited many times and is now contained in a terracotta dish for portability. Every time Seth adds hair he fluffs up the nest for the quail and makes it “soft” for her. I find it encouraging that the care that he takes in maintaining Amber extends to the quail, inanimate as she is.

The Perfect Home

Belgian Malinois?

Amber is thought to be a Belgian Malinois that did not meet a breeder’s criteria and was abandoned on a golf course. Inbreeding would explain her excessive shedding and mildly neurotic demeanor. In our family, we make light of her “lesser” traits.  We recycle her hair, and give her tasks that make appreciable use of her nervous energy, such as guarding grandchildren. Many a Sunday afternoon has Amber spent hard at work protecting her charges napping in car seats. She sits in noble stance, back to the car facing out – alert and on guard.

Gravy Train

In the spirit of dog maintenance, Seth took it upon himself to feed the dogs. Seth often feeds the dogs which is usually met with proverbial eye-rolling from the dogs and good humor from the supervising adult. It’s agonizing to watch as Seth takes his sweet time pouring food in and out of the bowl. The dogs, poised in anticipation know that they can’t interfere while he is prepping, but desperately want to lunge for the kibble. Despite his suspiciously long ministrations, Seth does show consideration and puts some of the food on the floor for Mango. Mango is our Chidaquador (Chihuahua, Daschund Lab?) mix. She is many breeds, none of them bright, and prefers to carry her food away from unpredictable food bowls and eat it in peace a few paces away on the floor.

Pesky Bowls

Mango is what is described by our trusty source as a “fancy breed” dog. She is bred for city life and has cursed me all these years for having been relegated to a life in the country. In her mind she should have been a Mission District dog with a studded collar and a constant stream of other dogs to boss around. By some cosmic twist of fate, the roles were reversed and she is now bossed around by a 3 year old human. The book recommends speaking firmly to your dog, which does not seem to be a problem for Seth. Children seem to pick up early on the art of commanding animals.  At a very young age Seth’s cousin Rosie who could barely speak could be heard saying firmly “no Amber” whenever she had a snack in hand and Amber was near by.

Biscuit Pocket

In the dog’s minds Seth is the most reliable snack dispenser in the household. He can now reach the biscuit jar and doles them out with what could be termed as wild abandon. The biscuits come in different flavors/colors. Seth likes to choose biscuits of matching colors and he is very specific in his intent when he clambers up to the jar. I have tried to introduce the idea of having the dogs sit, or go outside or come out of the crate for a biscuit but somehow that is not important to Seth. He is more interested in the categorizing, and dispensing of snacks. Perhaps in time he will take interest in the transactional nature of biscuits – I give them biscuits they do something in return for me.  However, right now he is happy taking good care of them, making sure their bellies are full so they will “grow big and strong”.

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