I’ve been thinking about our dogs a lot lately.
Not for any particular reason.
Other than the fact I haven’t slept well in a few days thanks to a pathetic cold so I’ve been up a lot during the night.
And the fact that Harry seems a bit ‘off’ and Casey almost turned blue on our walk in the cold yesterday.
Dogs with Laryngeal Paralysis usually do much better in the cool temps, and that has been the case with Casey but he was just too hopped up yesterday.
And when he’s excited and goofy and hopped up there is no calming him down.
Because he’s Casey.
And also because he’s a Labrador Retriever.
Which got me thinking some more.
Many dog breeds are so unique in their traits its astounding. And many are bred for very specific purposes.
Not that every husky will want to pull a sled, or every German Shorthair will be a marvel with the ducks, or every Jack Russell Terrier will outsmart their owner and take off on them at high speeds, or every Chihuahua will shiver and tremble and quake as they cling to your arms 23 out of 24 hours every day.
Okay, no, wait… every Chihuahua will do that.
So I’ve been thinking about breed traits and where the Fyfe Canines fit into all of this.
Like most Retrievers, Casey is kind and loyal. He’s the only dog who wanted to take on a Grizzly bear a few years ago to protect his Dad.
He is energetic, always hungry, easily excited, a great swimmer, an obsessed master at retrieving tennis balls, good with every other dog he’s met, a fantastic shed-hunter and goofy to a fault.
And sometimes he does things that are just bat-shit crazy.
Like the hole he dug 2 summers ago.
And then I think, well, I’ve certainly done crazy things in my life.
Why did I think it was important to steal a stop sign with friends one time?
Why did I drive to Banff in the middle of the night to look for summer work?
Why on Earth did I buy a Fiero?????
Sometimes there are no answers.
We just want Casey to be happy.
Maybe a little less excited to see us because one time he could get so worked up that his flopping laryngeal fold won’t open and he won’t be able to breathe.
But how do you suppress a Retriever’s happiness to see you?
Or a Springer Spaniel’s competitive intensity coupled with her need to be a princess?
I admire Cleo’s competitive nature. She tries harder than anyone to get that damned tennis ball but Casey’s intuitive natural ability usually leads him to it first.
And if Cleo does get it its game over because she usually runs off and lays on top of it.
Like many spaniels, Cleo is friendly with other dogs but she also is independent.
They will all take off with us on hikes together but she is often on her own- digging a hole or playing in the creek.
I get that.
I like visiting with people but I’m totally fine being on my own up at our ranch in the middle of nowhere.
I respect her Spaniel stick-to-it-ness, like when she came to my clinic to be put down years ago.
She maybe started whipping out the fancy tricks because she probably perceived that most of us were sad and/or crying. Many spaniels are very in tune with their humans.
And I respect our husky’s wariness.
And his trust.
And his need to follow closely behind me when we hike or snowshoe. An in-bred instinct to herd, or know where the herd is at all times.
He has an intensity about him, like many huskies do, that makes him seem stand-off-ish to some but once you get a moment alone with him and he can sniff you up and down you will see his soft, sweet side come out.
Like many working breeds Harry is very stoic.
He made the tiniest of barely-audible whimpers when my neighbors helped release him from a leg-hold trap that had pinned him down a few years ago.
He never complained during his year as a Medical Exercise dog at my vet school- he was poked, prodded, shaved, injected, palpated, all by inexperienced hands.
And he doesn’t complain now with 2 fairly weak knees and arthritic joints and maybe something else going on.
I’d like to say I see some of that in myself.
When I leapt off my runaway horse on one of my first riding dates with Alistair and broke a chunk off of my collar bone (not to mention the bleeding nose & cuts to my face), I got my ass back on that horse and rode the 2 hour ride back to the farm.
Yes, it may have been because his ex-wife and her new boyfriend were along on this ride and my terrier-like stubbornness and pride were present but after my initial tears I wasn’t going to let anyone hear me complaining.
Which, in the end, was kind of funny and I like being funny.
Being funny is a large part of what UB, our mixed breed is all about.
He’s the only dog we have actually done a DNA test on and he is part Boston Terrier and part Cocker Spaniel.
He has spaniel independence and terrier seriousness.
But he also has a light-hearted, energetic, athletic, happy approach to life.
If the butterfly is there, you should chase it.
If the Mummy’s lap is empty, you should sit in it.
If the blind dog needs someone to lay with her, you should do it.
His approach to everything- elk herding, running, attacking Casey, sleeping, eating, barking at badgers or Grizzly Bears, chasing kitty cats, making fun of Subarus- is done at full tilt. There is nothing half-assed about this boy and sometimes his recklessness gets the best of him.
Like mine has with me over the years.
Climbing the 3rd tallest Ferris Wheel in the world in the middle of the night in Japan was a great idea!
Until we got up there…
And the one dog who is for certain a pure bred has her own characteristics that are true to the Boston Terrier breed.
Blind, with a luxating patella and knobby dew claw, Loki still tries to run the show around here.
She is the one dog who gave Casey a serious run for his money with that tennis ball when she could see.
She is bossy and set in her ways.
She growled at Gampy the other morning because he dared to take her from her warm, comfy slumberland to go outside for piddles in the snow.
She tosses her empty food dish towards us, as if we don’t notice that it is empty.
And yet she always wants to be with us, right next to us, on top of us, under the covers with us.
I have a bit of a stubborn streak in me so I appreciate her in-charge attitude.
I play nicely with the other kids but I like it to be my game.
Like the whole Dog Days of Summer thing… I only did it because the local hospital board said I couldn’t do a canine walkathon at their annual medical open house.
I, like Loki, am not someone who does well with the words, “you can’t.”
So I created an annual event of my own that turned out to be an enormous success and had amazing attendance each year, which the medical clinic couldn’t even compete with.
There are so many different dog breeds out there and they all have some special capabilities and strengths.
And different owners have different expectations and their own talents for training and sharing.
We can learn a lot from our barking, tail-wagging, slobbery, snoring, farting, hoop-jumping, happy, forgiving, ball-chasing, duck-hunting, sled-pulling, keg-wearing, shivering companions.
And different breeds can do different things.
I’m not saying you should train your ShihTsu to pull a sled or that Min Pins will make excellent therapy dogs or that an Akita should run Flyball, but each dog, like each of us, is an individual.
With no expectations and just the request that everyone get along (and donate reproductive organs at the door) the Fyfe misfits will continue to make me smile.