I had a fair bit of experience with dogs prior to getting my own – I did (and still do, though with reduced frequency) dog-sitting and dog walking for people in my area. This gave me a somewhat good idea of what owning a dog is all about, but it also taught me some things that were obvious at the time, and things that I only realised I learned, looking back on it.
This is my neighbour’s dog, and I’ve been taking care of this guy while they’re away on vacation since forever. From time with this guy, I learned that you should always… ALWAYS… ALWAYS ask if the dog is friendly before approaching it with your dog (or, for that matter, with the intention of petting a stranger’s dog, with or without one of your own). ALWAYS. Just do it, don’t question me on this. Some people will get offended (generally, people with dogs that fall into the ‘tough’ category… German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc), and other people will look at you like you’re a moron (generally people with tiny fluffy dogs, or small friendly-looking dogs). Generally, people will answer ‘yes’, and ‘yes’ again, if you ask if your dog can meet theirs. But ask them all – because the good-natured beagle I take care of twice a year is not friendly to other dogs. He is so not friendly to other dogs that he has drawn blood. His owner does her best to keep an eye out, but she did not see or hear the person speed walking towards her from behind with his own dog on leash, anxious for his pretty beagle to meet this other beagle. It doesn’t matter how friendly the dog looks, or how big, or what type of dog – the owners whose answer to “is your dog friendly” is “NO” will appreciate you asking before approaching, and your dog will appreciate it too. Dogs, unlike humans, don’t like to have their ears pierced. Teach your children about this as well – “Is your dog friendly, and can I pet him” should be asked before they even consider approaching a person out walking their dog.
Also, if the dog is that interested in sniffing a particular patch of ground, he’s probably going to eat something gross or roll in something gross in the next few moments.
This is one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met, and the reason my parents decided that I could get a dog while still living in their house (a radical about-face from my father’s previous assertion that he would never ever get another pet, and absolutely does not like dogs). This dog’s main lesson was not for me, but for Short Sister, who is nervous of larger sized dogs (like, say, my dog). His gentle nature brought her around to the possibility that not all large dogs are ticking time-bombs of excited-barking, crazed jumping (she is barely 5’, it doesn’t have to be a huge dog for it to be able to punch her in the face when jumping up), and general frightening activities. Even she couldn’t resist stroking his soft ears while he leaned against her in complete bliss. This dog taught her that size is not the real deciding factor about a dog, and taught my parents how a dog could be, in our family, if we found one that matched our lifestyle. As a counter to that, this sweet boy pulls like a tank – a lesson to me that my future dog absolutely had to be trained to loose-leash walk, because I don’t want my arm muscles to bulk up like Popeye’s from all the time spent straining backwards on the leash, like a cartoon character in a high wind.
These two charmers were entirely different to take care of than any of the other dogs. They could keep each other company, which was different from any of the single-dog homes I had house-sat for. Their obedience training was also very different, more conversation than orders. There were small things I picked up from their owners. The dog is walking down the stairs ahead of you, she thinks she’s in charge, and sometimes tone is everything. I didn’t even realise this second one until I caught myself using a well-placed throat clearing to get my dog to circle around to follow me out a door (instead of leading me). I also saw how completely opposite two dogs of the same breed could be – with the black Gandalf stopping continually on walks to sniff things, and the white Firecracker leaping ahead to investigate everything at top speed. This was helpful when I came to the realisation that Weimaraners (my favourite and most desired breed at the time – and still in the top 5) are not hypoallergenic. It was nice to know that, by wanting a hypoallergenic dog (which would allow my severely allergic youngest sister to come and visit future me in my future house), I was not guaranteeing that I wouldn’t end up with a dog as gentle and sweet tempered as the Weim I already knew. With these guys, I also experienced a few of the less fun aspects of dog care and ownership. At 3am in the middle of a lightning storm, I experienced the one Scottie’s complete terror of lightning and thunder, as he woke me up with his burrowing under the blankets, clawing down my leg in his attempt to reach the foot of the bed and hide. I experienced the joy of discovering unfortunate accidents as they soaked through my sock when I went into the room the dogs had been in all day, and the shock of finding a dog tucked in behind the toilet when I sat down to use it.
I have been walking this girl twice a week for over two years now – I experienced the worst dog-walking weather, as well as some of the best, with her. House-sitting for her, I realised that the hyper racing-dog I took out on walks was just as hyperactive inside the house – no quiet hour in front of the tv was allowed, without some form of destructive objection from Blondie. With her, I got my first experience teaching basic commands, as well as my first clue as to just how tight a community dog owners can be. For the past two years, I’ve been seeing, fairly consistently, the same group of dog owners in the creek valley, and, while we might not know all of each-others’ names, I can tell if the Vizsla (heading towards me is the dominant barker or the one who focuses completely on her toys.
Note: Vizsla is pronounced Veesh-la, by the way. Tall Sister pointed out that, when the breed was mentioned in my last post, despite knowing how to pronounce it, she still had a bout of hysterical giggling as she tried pronouncing it as it looks. In her words – VIZ-Sla-ha-ha-ha-ha! sounds like a strange evil villain laugh. My neighbourhood is full of Vizslas, and I can understand the urge to get one – they are stunning and sleek and full of energy. But don’t get one without the proper research, because these dogs require A LOT of exercise.
Walking Blondie was like getting a part-time membership into an elite club, and I got to see the good, the bad, and the gross aspects of dog ownership. I am fully aware of how lucky I am that Dog doesn’t seem interested in eating other dogs’ poop. And I really wish he’d stop trying to eat all the goose-crap he can find, but I wasn’t surprised to find that he does like it. I learned training tips and tricks from the dog owners I ran into, learned how important socializing your dog is, how irritating burrs are, types of dog equipment to stop pulling, and good quality toys they’ve found. I saw a wide variety of dog breeds, temperaments, and obedience levels. In walking the Blonde One, I heard about cases of distemper amongst the local wildlife, found out whether there had been any coyote sightings, and was alerted to the presence of dead animals near the trail. And in return, I’d pass this information on to other people I encountered. Knowing about this network of dog owners, all willing to share their knowledge, pass on an extra poop-bag, and commiserate about the trials of owning a dog – that added to my desire to get a dog. Now, Blondie and Dog get a good long run together a few times a week, and I practice Dog’s training on both of them. And that elite club? I’m a full member now.