Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Just the other day, one of my closest friends said to me, "Yeah, I like your dog, but he can be a little pushy, a little loud, and a little obnoxious. Come to think of it, he's kind of like you!"

Not even a week later, as I was demonstrating the Beast's uber-excitable behaviour whenever someone comes to the door, another friend burst out laughing and said, "Ha! Who does that remind you of?" He was, of course, insinuating that the Beast's behaviour reminds him of my own.

So I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days now. There is, after all, a popular concept in the doggie world that says that your dog has a tendency to mirror your own behaviour. Is the Beast just the canine version of me? Do I have to change my own bad habits so that he can become a polite young man instead of a frenetic nut bar? And more importantly, am I a frenetic nut bar?

To get to the bottom of this, I should start by describing the Beast. He derives many of his behaviours from his genetic profile. Indeed, he reflects both the best and the worst of two highly-intelligent, hard-working, and high-strung herding breeds (the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie, for those of you who may have forgotten even though I probably mention his breed in every single post...)

Let's start with the good qualities. He is extremely intelligent and has a very strong work-ethic, making him a very willing pupil, very eager to please, and quick as a whip. Find the right motivator (like a tiny piece of kibble), spend a few minutes a day with him, and he'll be rolling over and giving you high fives within no time at all. He's also fiercely loyal to his pack, never straying far away when he's off leash and making sure that no harm comes if one of us is, say, running down a dark street at 6:00 in the morning and someone unexpectedly comes out of a parking lot, catching us off guard (that poor man might have suffered a minor heart attack, but the upside is that anyone stupid enough to mess with me wouldn't get away with much).

But there are also not-so-good qualities that come with these breeds. First of all, as a dog bred to work, even when humans are not around to supervise, the Beast instinctually likes to take control and make his own decisions, meaning that he likes to challenge authority on a constant basis. And when his herding drive kicks in at the dog park, he tries to control every dog by barking and running circles around them, driving everyone - canine and human - more than a little bonkers. And because he is such a hard worker, he focuses so intensely on this task that it is almost as though he is in a trance. No command that I utter has any effect at such a time. And then there is the incessant barking whenever someone comes to the door, which increases in crescendo as his excitement mounts to the point where he just cannot stop himself from jumping all over said innocent newcomer.

In other words, he is an extremely excitable, overly vocal, control-freak who likes to be the centre of attention at all times.

As for me, well, let's just do a little side-by-side comparison, shall we?

Extremely excitable
It does not take much to get the Beast excited. Simply picking up his food dish sends him into fits of Tasmanian devil-like pirouettes. Coming through the front door propels him to jump and maul hubby and I. Opening the car door for him to hop in leads to excited yelps and major bum-shaking. And his entire body is a lightning bolt of tension before we let him off-leash at the dog park because is just so ready to go.

Now we have worked very hard on calming him down over the last seven months, and we have had major success at teaching him how to relax before we let him get what he wants. But he can flip the excitement switch on like that with a nanosecond's notice, and his entire body will convulse, his tailless bum will wag, his face will break out in a silly grin, and he will pant and bark and whine uncontrollably. He really can't always help himself.

And neither can I. Good news makes me positively giddy. Great news makes me lose complete control of all of my cognitive and bodily functions. I essentially break out in the human version of bum wagging, panting and uncontrollable barking. Like the time that my husband called me at work to tell me that he had secured tickets to our first Grey Cup game, and I jumped out of my office chair, simultaneously crying and screaming, while a colleague looked on in horror convinced that I'd just found out that a loved one was struck by a car. Or the time that I met my favourite quarterback of all time and probably scared the hell out of him as I stood in the middle of the bar, heart racing, waving my hands in front of my face (I really did try to stop them but I couldn't) and shouting, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!! It's you!!!! It's really, really, really, really, really you!!!! I'm your biggest.... Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God..." Or when I stood in line for hours to buy tickets to my first Springsteen concert and exclaimed to the ticket agent when I got one of the last pairs of seats available, "Holy shit!!!! I am so happy that I could kiss you right now!" while jumping up and down in the same spot.

So yes, we are both slightly excitable...

Overly vocal
I've said it before. The Beast barks. A lot. High-pitched, sharp, and incessant. When he has something to say, the whole world knows about it. Or at least my neighbours do...

But it's not just the barking. When he wants anything, he will find a sound to make to get our attention. Sometimes he whines. Sometimes he yips. Sometimes he makes sounds that can only be described as wookie-like. And he'll keep going and going and going until he tires himself out (because we refuse to give in and reward such bad behaviour). And since he is so persistent, that can go on for a while.

As for me, well, I've been a chatter-box my whole life. I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk and I talk. (Ever notice how long some of these blog posts are?) Loudly, at times. I always have a story to tell, or an opinion to express, or a sentiment to share. When I feel something, you will know. So will everyone else within at least a block's radius.

And when I want something, well, I hate to admit it, but I will nag. "Honey, can we get a dog?" "Honey, when are we going to get a car?" "Honey, how many times do I have to tell you to pay more attention when you wash the dishes?" And so on, and so on, and so on. I'm sure that my husband is too much of a gentleman to admit it, but my constant vocalization of every little thing I feel and thought that I have must be as annoying to him as the Beast's best Chewbacca impersonation.

So we are both a wee bit expressive...

Control-freak
According to that great bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, a control-freak is someone who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done. That sounds like the Beast to me.

Now in fairness, he was bred to move large herds of livestock, so he needs to be confidant in his ability to control a situation. The trouble is that he doesn't actually herd sheep for a living, so there is no need for him to be such a pushy and persistent control freak. Still, he likes to be in control. In the dog park, he likes to tell all the other dogs what to do, which includes barking at them when they don't follow his precise instructions. And at home, he ignores hubby and I when he doesn't feel like doing what we ask him to do, sometimes requiring a correction or twelve to remind him who is the boss.

And, well, I don't herd sheep for a living either but I do have control-freak tendencies. Thankfully for my staff, not so much at the office, where I seem to have no trouble delegating. But at home, I can be a drill sergeant. I don't mean to be, but I like things to be done the "right" way (as in the way that I would do them). Which is why, since the day I saw hubby throw the pasta noodles in unboiled water and put it all on the stove at the same time - without even salting the water!!!! - I gasped and kicked him out of the kitchen, and have refused his generous offers to help me cook dinner every day since. It's also why he is not allowed to help me paint rooms in our house. Because, well, it doesn't look as nice as when I do it. I like things done a certain way. My way. And only my way.

So the Beast and I have that in common too...

Likes to be the centre of attention at all times
When the Beast comes into the dog park, or meets another dog while we are hiking through the Arboretum, he makes his presence known. With wild abandon, he will bound right into the centre of pack of dogs, leaping in the air like a ballet dancer, and practically screaming, "I'm h-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!!!! Look at me! Look at me! Look at m-m-m-m-m-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e!!!!!" (Then he'll try to take control of the situation by barking and telling every dog what to do. See above...)

And as eager as he is to please others, he loves to be recognized for a job well done. Once he figures out a new command or a new rule, he is so proud of himself. He just sits right down in front of you, puffs his chest out, and looks up at you with his great big brown eyes as if to say, "I'm so good, aren't I, Mom? Don't you think I deserve an ear-scratch for that? Maybe a big juicy steak?" He likes to get his gold stars, that is for sure...

As for me, well, I am usually one of the loudest people at a party. I like to tell jokes. I like to make people laugh. I like to be noticed. It's why I wore a weird asymmetrical haircut for three years, and why I have such a vast and colourful shoe collection. But I especially like it when people tell me that I am good at something. When I sang on our wedding day, I literally shone with glee when people came up to me to tell me that they had no idea what a good singer I was. And I still have an e-mail from my boss thanking me for my role in a particularly difficult file hanging on my office bulletin board. I like people to pay attention to me, to know who I am, and to know that I am a good and capable person.

So yes, Beasty and I are incorrigible attention seekers as well...

The question, then, is: has my dog always been an extremely excitable, overly vocal control freak who likes to be the centre of attention, or did he just become this when he met me?

I think that I was likely unconsciously drawn to the Beast because he reminds me of myself. I also think that he has a hard time controlling some of his less-than-preferred behaviours in certain moments because I don't always set a stellar example. Either way, we are two different species, but we are also two peas in a pod.

The real question then is: how on earth does my husband stand living with two of me?

You'll have to ask him that question the next time you see him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Boot camp

The Beast is the first dog that I have had since I left my childhood home over 17 years ago. Which is why I read about three or four books about dogs before he came home. Which is also why I figured that I should hire a dog trainer.

Most people looking for a dog trainer probably have to shop around. They might undertake an extensive Google search or ask fellow dog owners for advice. But not me. Nope. I lucked out. 'Cause one of my best friends married a dog trainer.

My buddy's wife is so much more than a dog trainer though. She operates her own business out of her 17-acre ranch, which includes a doggie day-care, basic and behaviour-based training, rehabilitation of dogs with more severe and challenging issues, and boarding. All of these services are firmly rooted in pack philosophy. She is the Alpha, and her family - including her own three balanced dogs - assist her as she teaches appropriate social behaviours to others by integrating them into her pack. Whether your dog is there for a day or whether he is there for six months, he will benefit from her firm but fair leadership, plenty of exercise and socialization in a wide open space, and integration into her own family home so that he receives all the attention that he needs and deserves.

Hubby and I have taken advantage of her expertise on a number of occasions. Before the Beast even came to live with us, we talked to her about what we should do to get ready for such a high-strung breed. Within the first two weeks of having him, we enlisted her for an initial training session, and she came over to our house and taught us how to walk him properly. We've emailed her with S.O.S.'esque messages over the past seven months seeking advice on how to handle some of his less pleasant behaviours, like barking non-stop whenever someone approaches our house. And we've waited for the opportunity to board him with her so that he could be whipped into shape, boot camp style!

I call it boot camp because as part of the boarding experience, each dog gets a one-on-one, twice daily 15-minute training session, tailored specifically to their needs. But the training doesn't end there. Whether it is walk time, playtime, or feeding time, the Alpha is never far and is always ready to deliver an important life lesson in the form of a correction for bad behaviour. Whereas some owners are prepared to cut their dog some slack if they disobey (guilty) and others are prone to get really frustrated and yell a lot (ashamedly guilty), that doesn't happen here. This trainer stays calm and in control at all times, but doesn't let her canine clients get away with any untoward behaviour. No barking unnecessarily. No trying to control all the other dogs. And no jumping up and down in wild excitement for no good reason.

If you remember this post and this post, and this... well, most posts really, you can probably see where this is going...

Suffice it to say that we were excited to enroll our little soldier in some quality time with Alpha. You see, although hubby and I have worked with him a lot - and have even made some significant and noteworthy (if I do say so myself) progress - we know that there are aspects of his behaviour that still need work (like the barking - I really do have to write a post all about the barking one of these days...). And while we aren't naive enough to think that all it will take is a one-week stay with a top notch trainer to turn him into an angel (that would truly be a Christmas miracle), we also know that she has knowledge and tools far beyond what we possess, and that at the very least, she will lay down a good base upon which we can build.

Christmas gave us the opportunity we were waiting for. Neither of us could help but smile a little as we drove him out to her place on December 19th. I do believe that hubby even looked at him at one point and said, "You have no idea what you are in for, buddy," with more than a hint of glee in his voice as he said it.

Over the next eight days, we spent quality time with my family, eating too much, exercising too little, polishing off too many bottles of wine, playing too many mindless video games with the nieces and nephews, and spending too much money on Boxing Day. The Beast, on the other hand, spent eight hard core days of learning the rules of balanced and healthy doggie behaviour. And through email updates every couple of days, as well as a post-boarding debrief session that lasted over an hour, I gather that he found his "vacation" more challenging than I found mine...

So first, the good news. Hubby and I were assured that the Beast quickly integrated into his new "pack" without difficulty. That he enjoys being around humans and dogs alike and that he is very social. That he is a smart boy and that he learns quickly and easily. And that he has excellent name recognition, even from a distance.

But... For every positive statement, there was a "but"... Like:
  • The Beast quickly integrated into his new pack without difficulty, "but" he gets very excited and too wound up around so many dogs. He can't control himself. As a result, he could be a little annoying to some of the more submissive dogs; or
  • The Beast is super smart and picking up on commands very easily, "but" he keeps pushing to see if I will let him get away with something. He tests every single rule and everything with him is a fight until he realizes that I won't let him win, which sometimes takes a very long time; or
  • The Beast will look up at me the minute that I call his name, "but" he will only make his way to me on his own time as opposed to when I want him to come.
In other words, I've got my hands full with a dominant, excited dog (I knew that), who feels the need to control every situation (I knew that too), and who thinks that he is top dog (yeah... I hate to admit it, but I guess I knew that too). 

Which is why he won't stop barking when someone comes in the house. And why he won't pay attention to me in the dog park when he is hyper focused on something else, like another dog. And why he only comes when I call him about 60% of the time. And why he pulls on his leash rather than walks nicely beside me whenever we are heading off to someplace that makes his excited. Because I am not yet firmly established as his pack leader, and so he decides to control me.

As excited as I was when I dropped him off about all of the great things that he would learn during his sojourn with Alpha, I couldn't help but feel a little bummed as I was standing there listening to her tell me about all the things that he still needs to learn. More accurately, my ego was a little bit stung. Wasn't I doing anything right? I mean, I did get him to stop his Tasmanian Devil routine during his feedings. And I did get him to run nicely alongside me when I go out for a run or a bike ride. And I did get him to stop yanking my arm out of the socket when we go for a walk, even if he does pull when we get closer to a park. And I did get him to be relaxed when he's in the house, even if he is a crazy, frenetic monkey when we are in a dog park. None of that was easy, but I did it. Where was my recognition for that?

As we drove home, armed with some brand new tips and instructions for the Beast's continued training, he rested peacefully in the backseat (likely ecstatic to be safely back in the arms of humans that he could control) while I sulked a little. Until hubby intervened.

"What's the matter? Aren't you happy to see the Beast? You haven't stopped talking about him for eight days!"

"Of course I'm happy to see him," I said. "It's just that I don't like not being good at something, and I feel like I'm not very good at raising the Beast. You heard her. He was a handful! He was probably driving her nuts! What if she thinks that I'm a bad dog owner? What if she doesn't ever want him to come back? I feel like I've done nothing right and like I have to start back at the beginning!"

"Wow! You got all of that from our conversation? Because here's what I heard. 'He pushed the envelope for the first couple of days, but once he learned the rules, he was great.' And she didn't say that you were a bad dog owner or that he is a bad dog! And her list of things to work on wasn't exactly huge either. And it included all the things that you asked her to help us with. Maybe you're overreacting."

I really hate it when he is right...

And he is right. Now that the Beast has been home for a couple of days and I've started to see some success with some of the new tips I got from the trainer, I can see that I can have more and more success with this dog. Yes, I have done things right, but I also have to keep going with his training because it's not a time-limited process.

So I need a boot camp too.

Which is why the Beast and I are now enrolled in more training sessions with Alpha. So she can whip us both into shape!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just like learning to ride a bike

This past Sunday, I found myself clutching a hot chocolate in a local coffee shop, while bouncing up and down in one spot as I desperately tried to bring some circulation back to my fingers and toes. You see, all 20 of my digits were frozen solid, because I had just returned from a 10k bike ride. On December 11.

Now I know a few cycling fanatics who are brave (or crazy) enough to bike all year round. But not me. No sir. I wimp out sometime around Canadian Thanksgiving. When it starts to rain a lot and when that North wind really starts to feel like a North wind.

But this year, it's been unseasonably warm. And snow free. So as we've somehow convinced Mother Nature to extend autumn, I've saved my bike from storage dust bunnies for a few extra weeks.

Which makes the Beast very happy. Because biking is one of his top favourite activities. Right up there with eating and, well, eating some more.

T'was not always so.

The enlightened idea to get the Beast running along side a bike came to me as so many of my dog training ideas do; while watching a dog show (although I can't remember if it was The Dog Whisperer or At the End of My Leash). Biking = good, according to t.v. canine experts. Especially for high energy dogs like mine. Also good for doggies who don't like following direction. They kind of have no choice but to pay attention to you when they are being forced to keep up to (and out of the way of) a bike. So two birds, one stone: drain the Beast of his vast reservoir of energy and firmly establish myself and hubby as top dogs!

So one Saturday afternoon about a month after we brought the Beast home, we figured that it was time to give this biking thing a whirl. Remember how excited your parents were on the day that they decided it was time to take your training wheels off and get you riding a two-wheeler all on your own? Well, that is how hubby and I felt: confident in our abilities to lead our little man through this exercise and convinced that he would be a pro within a few minutes!

Now remember how you felt the first time your Dad gave you a push and let go of your bike? Remember how you screamed, "No dad, don't let go! Don't let go!" as panic rose in your throat and you shakily made your way down the street and into a garbage can at the end of the alley? Yeah, that pretty much sums up the Beast's feelings about this whole experience...

The first exercise was relatively simple: introduce him to the bike. So I led the Beast over to this two-wheeled monstrosity and let him have a good sniff. No problem. He likes sniffing things. And he's really good at it.

Next, I leashed him up around my waist, grabbed the handle bars, and went for a little walk, so that it was bike, me and the Beast, in that order. Also no problem. He knows how to walk, after all.

Then I straddled the bike, one leg on either side, and kept walking down the street. This is the part where the Beast started to get a little jumpy. As he was getting closer to the wheels, he started looking around for hubby, as if to say, "Dude, where are you and why are you letting her walk me next to this weird looking thing?" But after a couple of minutes, he settled into a cautious pace, casting a cautious eye on the bike every now and then.

After going around the block a few times, I decided to up the ante. It was time to get him to respect the bike, and learn how to stay out of its way. So I gently nudged him with the front tire once.

He didn't like that very much. 

The Beast leaped 6 feet into the air and about 6 feet away from the bike, growling and barking and having a general fit. And remember, he was tied to my waist, and I was straddling the bike. So violent was his reaction against the nudge that he took me down, along with the bike, and the three of us landed in a pile one on top of the other, with the Beast on the bottom writhing like an individual having a demon exorcised from him. I, on the other hand, was swearing a blue streak, as hubby looked on, trying not to laugh. When he felt it safe enough to come close to me without fear of getting a knuckle sandwich, hubby helped untangle the Beast, the bike and me. And then, ever the optimist, he said, "Well, this is good. I'm pretty sure it means that the Beast will respect the tire, right?"

"Something like that," I mumbled. Then we called it quits for the day, deciding that learning to ride a bike is something to be done in stages.

We went out again the very next day, and repeated the exact same exercises. This time, the Beast didn't throw a tantrum, although he clearly wasn't having any fun and was having a hard time relaxing. So we did this over and over again for a week, no more than 15 minutes a day, until he finally started to calm down enough around the bike for us to actually try taking him for a ride.

Hubby tried first. Having learned from my experiences of being pulled down before we were even riding the bike, he decided to hold the leash in his hand and take the Beast for a ride. We found a large, abandoned parking lot and hubby started pedalling in large, slow circles. The Beast started to panic, bucking and lunging away from the tires, and looking at me with a plea in his eyes to make this hellish experience stop. Hubby, ever the calmer influence than me, held firm and got the Beast to focus on him and the bike ride. It took ten minutes before the Beast stopped whining. And while his furtive glances continued, I watched as the leash got a little bit more slack because he stopped trying to leap as far away from the bike as possible. Then I watched as hubby started to pedal a little more quickly, and the Beast kicked up his own gait to match the bike's. Still cautious, and still a little panicked whenever the bike made a turn, but settling into a reasonable pace.

We did this for another week. And we watched him closely. And when we noticed that his ears were finally dropping back, we knew that he was actually starting to enjoy this bike thing. And so...

His summer days became filled with bike rides. When we wasn't busy as my running partner, hubby would take him on 6 or 7k bike rides along the river in the mornings. Every Sunday, the three of us would take off for a 5k ride to the Farmer's market, followed by a visit to the nearby dog park, and a 5k ride back home. And some nights, when I would come home from work, I would trade in my walking shoes for my bike and take the Beast for a nice ride so that he would be sure to settle into a nice quiet evening.

And he loves it. I mean, LOVES it. Every bike ride starts out the exact same way: the Beast taking off in an all out sprint, daring hubby or I to keep up with him as he sets the pace for the initial stages of the bike ride. Within a few minutes, his panting can be heard by all within a three block radius, but his face is glowing with the biggest puppy grin. And his ears are pinned straight back, the ultimate sign that he is having the time of his life. The further we go, the more he slows down, until he is content to trot alongside us at a more reasonable pace, casting the occasional glance back to make sure that whichever one of us taking up the rear has been able to keep up. And everyone who passes us in the opposite direction smiles at him, sometimes exclaiming in amazement that they have never seen a dog run alongside a bike before. The Beast smiles back at them as if to say, "Yeah, I know. I'm a freaking rock star!"

There have been unfortunate mishaps. Like the time his herding instinct kicked in when we stumbled upon a gaggle of geese and he pulled me straight off my bike and on top of him. Or the now infamous cone episode, when he dodged a lunging dog and ran straight into the rear tire of hubby's bike, suffering from a nasty bout of road rash that drove us all crazy for two weeks. But neither of these episodes have made him scared of the bike. Like a true pro, he gets right back into that saddle.

These days, there's not enough light to bike early in the morning or in the evenings after work, so our bike rides are relegated to Sunday trips to the Farmer's market and the dog park. I don't know how much longer this will last, because let's face it, when the snow falls, the bike gets stored. So I admit, I would love to have a white Christmas, but I'm okay with the snow holding out a little longer. Because there is nothing like seeing the Beast's face break out into that smile as he runs top speed alongside my bike every Sunday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Friendship

Every now and then, when I have had a tough day at work, or when I need advice, or when I just feel the need to giggle a little, I will whip out my berry and fire off a PIN to some of my favourite ladies.

"Ladies, I need my girls. Quick drink at 5:30?"

And then I eagerly await the vibration of the multiple responses, hoping that we can all find that sweet spot window between our work days and our evening home obligations to spend a few fleeting moments together. Not because I like to drink (ahem). But because sometimes, there is nothing better than laughing a little with your best pals.

Friends are special people. Sure, family members and spouses are special too. But they kind of have to be there for you when you need them. I mean, there's blood and vows involved. But not friends. They are hanging out with you because they actually like you - no pretending involved.

And so it's no surprise that some of the most important relationships of my life have been those that I have developed with the friends who have seen me through life's emergencies, victories and defeats. From the two guys that I spent most of my university time with (in a campus bar) watching football and singing karaoke, to the two girls that I spent the rest of my university time with (in a campus bar) talking about boys, to the ladies that I now share a glass of wine with (in a downtown bar) to discuss life frustrations in general, I have been lucky enough to share a lot of laughs and a lot of support with a lot of special people.

Not to mention a lot of drinks... So I guess I do like drinking...

Anyway...

The importance of friendships surpasses the human world. Doggy experts everywhere agree that socialization is one of the cornerstones to having a healthy and balanced dog. Based on my own experience, I tend to agree. The dogs that I have known in my life who aren't properly socialized (like the next door neighbour's Boston Terriers) are unfriendly, aggressive, bored, and lonely.  This is why hubby and I spend so much of our time in dog parks - to properly socialize the Beast so that he can grow up to be a good canine citizen.

Well, that's the trainer's reason for letting him run around with other dogs. But there is a more heartfelt reason for our twice-daily treks to the dog park. I truly believe that the Beast has formed some special friendships with a few special dogs. (And by special, I mean the ones who like him despite his insistent play-with-me-now-or-I-will-bark-in-your-ear attitude). So this is a little tribute to the Beast's three bestest friends.

First there is Murphy, the German Shepherd/Border Collie mix who hangs out in the Arboretum on Saturday mornings. I knew that there would be an instant connection between the two of them the second they spotted each other across the way. Both of them got down into the typical Border Collie crouch and gave each other the typical Border Collie eye, waiting for the other to make the first move. Murphy, being the youngest of the two, bolted first, and the Beast took off like a shot after him, chasing him around and around a wide circle. All of the Beast's finest herding skills - including hip checks and barking - were on display as he moved Murphy back toward the humans. When Murphy had had enough of being chased, he slammed on the brakes, turned around, and began to herd the Beast, using the exact same moves which are clearly engrained in Border Collie DNA. For ten minutes, we three humans just stood there, watching in amazement as our dogs became the perfect mirror images of one another, their deep satisfaction evident by the goofy grins pasted on their panting muzzles. Such kindred spirits they became in that short period of time, that it broke my heart a tiny bit to tear them apart.

Then there is Sampson, the German Shepherd. Sampson is HUGE. I mean, he must outweigh the Beast by 60lbs. To many - dogs and humans alike - he must look imposing. But I am an eternal lover of German Shepherds, so the minute I met him, I was in love. I didn't actually think that the Beast would share my admiration for this big strapping boy, since he generally prefers dogs his size or smaller who he will have a better chance to dominate. But Sampson took a liking to the Beast, and perhaps the Beast felt that he had no choice but to take a liking back. Ever since their first meeting, they have spent countless hours wrestling together in the snow bank outside of the local arena, until they are both so tired that they can do no more than lie on their sides and futilely swat at the air around them. And even as their tongues are dragging on the ground, they whine and protest as soon as it is time to go to their respective homes.

But the most special pal of them all - the Beast's BFF, if you will - is Ruby, the Black Lab. The Beast met Ruby one morning this summer when he and I were finishing up a run and stopped in at the local dog park for a good sniff. It was 6:30 in the morning, earlier than our usual arrival time, so I wasn't actually sure that there would be any dogs to play with. But as we turned into the park, the Beast's ears perked up with anticipation as he sensed the presence of another canine. I let him off his leash and he bounded up to the top of the hill, where he caught his first glimpse of Ruby, playing fetch with her human below. From the moment that he ran full speed down the hill and plowed her over in his excitement, to this very evening when he met her in the park just a few hours ago, the Beast has longed for Ruby's company. She is the full package. She lets him chase her. She chases him. She plays fetch with him. She wrestles with him. She plays keep-away (the stick or the ball) with him. And even better, because she is the most docile creature I've ever met, she always lets him win. The Beast loves her so much that if another dog - male or female - dares to come near her as they are engaged in play, he will unleash a vitriol of barking so shrill that windows across the street are likely to shatter. I have spent many a morning watching these two young friends greet the sunrise together with a rousing game of any-of-the-above games. It is, I am convinced, the purest form of happiness.

Which is, after all, what my best friendships have always brought to my own life: uncomplicated joy.

And the occassional drink.

Which reminds me, it's been awhile since I got the girls together...

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's just been one of those days...

Today I had a serious case of the blechs.

I blame it on a few factors. I'm seriously lacking in sleep. I had a day full of inefficient and irritatingly long meetings. I had to rush to get out of the door this morning after losing track of time. Oh yes, and it's been a dark, bleak and rainy Monday (see here for my thoughts on this least esteemed day of the week and here for my meteorological lament about precipitation).

Suffice it to say, this was the kind of day that kicked my ass a little, and that left me wanting to do nothing other than crawl into my bed with a big bowl of ice cream the minute that I got home.

Which is why I stayed at work a little bit later than I had to.

"What?" you are probably exclaiming. "How does that make sense? You're having a bad day, you want to be at home in bed, yet you are purposely staying at work? Are you crazy?"

Don't worry - this is not the first time that I've been called crazy, and it likely won't be the last. But in this case, there was actually a method to my madness. You see, hubby and I have an unwritten rule that he or she who gets home from work first is responsible for taking the Beast out for his evening stroll and romp in the park. And remember, today is Monday, it is raining, and I feel blech. Oh, and I took him out for a 6k run in the rain this morning and didn't really feel like getting soaked to the bone twice. So I didn't really want to be the first one home. Our rule may be unwritten, but the "I just don't feel like it" excuse doesn't fly well chez nous.

And so I admit it. In an attempt to secure second place in the race home, I dawdled. I successfully found a few unattended e-mails that needed answering. I did some filing (even though I have an assistant who is far more adept at that than me). I found a couple of reasons to send notes to my boss or other colleagues. And I returned a couple of phone calls even though I knew that the intended recipients would be gone for the day.

And then, when I was sure that hubby would be packing up his office and leaving for the evening (and when my dear friend called to offer me a ride which I will take over the bus any day...), I left the office, secure in the conviction that I could simply come home and sprawl out on the couch while I waited for a soaking wet Beast and a soaking wet hubby to come home for dinner.

But alas, I beat hubby home. I realized it the second we drove up and I noticed the garbage bin still at the curb. Hubby always brings the garbage bin back to the house when he gets home first. I grasped at a glimmer of hope that perhaps he took the Beast for a walk and intended to pick the bins up on the way back, but in the back of my mind, I just knew that he was still at the office.

And that I would be stuck walking with the Beast in the rain.

(Insert unmentionable expletive here. And maybe another one here...)

Well, in the words of my esteemed and wise father, "Dems the breaks, kiddo." I would just have to suck it up, find my rain gear, and get this walk over with.

But something happened to my attitude almost the minute I entered the house.

For starters, whenever the Beast is freed from the confines of his crate, he does this incredibly infectious dance that hubby and I have nicknamed the "happy bum dance". Most dogs would simply wag their tails, but the Beast doesn't have one of those, so his entire bum shakes ferociously back and forth. It is the most darling thing that I have ever seen, and it puts a smile on my face every single time. Even though I know that it is probably a sign of how badly he has to pee, it is nice to pretend that it is because he is just so darn happy to see me. And sure enough, as soon as I let him out tonight, he did the happy bum dance all the way to the patio door, looking up at me the whole time with a smile on his face (which actually probably meant, "Hurry up lady and open the door. I gotta pee!").

By the time the Beast had fulfilled his bodily needs, I was changed into my dog park clothes and ready to hit the streets with him, rain gear and all. And as I pulled on my rubber boots and slung my dog-walking knap sack over my shoulder, the Beast was sitting like a perfect gentleman at the front door, waiting for me to clip his leash on and take off. If you had any idea how long it took me to get him to wait patiently to go for a walk, you would understand why this sight makes me so happy. Even happier because the whole time, he had a big goofy grin on his face, almost as infectious as the happy bum dance.

And then there was the walk itself. Yes, it was raining. And yes, I got soaking wet. But each time I would glance down to the Beast at my side, I could not help but notice how happy he was to be out and about. His ears were back, his nose was up in the air so that he could sniff everything as we walked by, and every now and then, when I would make a kissey sound to get his attention, he would look back at me with that big silly grin.

So we walked for half an hour. And when we got to the dog park, we were greeted by two other dedicated dog owners who were braving the elements with their dogs. So we stayed there for half an hour, playing fetch with the boys and watching them get more and more dirty as they ran through puddles, snow piles and patches of mud.

It wasn't until I my fingers were so numb with cold that I had lost feeling in them that it occurred to me that I was actually having a good time. In the cold. In the dark. In the rain. On a Monday. Despite my blechy day.

It's like I told one of the dog park humans this evening in response to his polite, "How was your day?"

"Well," I said, "it was actually pretty shitty, until about half an hour ago."

"Yeah," he said. "That's what dogs do. They make your day better."

And he is right. There is something about the Beast's live-life-right-now-no-matter-what-is-going-on attitude that sweeps me away every single time. He doesn't care about the weather. He doesn't care about the day of the week or the time of day. He doesn't care that he spent the previous eight hours by himself in the house while hubby and I were at work. He just loves life, and wants to live every moment to its absolute fullest. How on earth can anyone resist that attitude?

I am quite sure that there will be plenty more blech days. But I am pretty lucky that the Beast will be waiting for me when I get home to put a smile on my face while I watch him do his happy bum dance.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, little buddy.