The weather has been very lovely the past few days with a rain here and there. Grasses are greening and the trees are continuing their brief 2-month hiatus from dropping anything — branches, leaves, dead leaves, pollen, pollen buds, bud covers, pollen, squirrels — from themselves every freakin’ day. You know winter is in full swing when the trees hang on to whatever they can to conserve energy.
Yesterday, I took the dogs for a 3.3 mile walk. The distance was unintentional, but the spirit moved me to keep going and they certainly didn’t mind.
For the 6,782 time, it struck me hilarious: the distinction between the two dogs.
I’ve said it before and often: Murphy, our 7-yo Golden Retriever is a dog of intention; he was engineered to be here. Who knows if his parents would’ve ever met otherwise? Those arranged marriages so common in the dog world create beautiful beasts for persons (raises hand) seeking a certain temperament, history and reasonable predictability within a dog. We’ve “ordered” Goldens because we have a family and young children. Murphy has been A DREAM for us. Mellow, stable, soft, huge, warm, furry, soft, reliable, funny, soft, smart, entertaining, patient, friendly, soft, and energetic.
Charlie, our 18-month-old foundling, our gift of fate and love, is this fascinating mixture of canid and drunken dirt bike rider / rugby player / rancher / shoe salesman / bovine / ticket scalper and frustrated mall cop.
Murphy is all people-oriented. A sight dog: What’s that? Who’s there? Squirrel. Cat. Bird. Treat. Leash. Bee. Murphy is nigh unflappable, save for when someone, anyone ventures to the second floor of our house. Then … he retreats to a space between the bed and the wall in our guest room and burrows himself as much as possible into the carpet and concrete foundation beneath it. I have no idea why. He won’t tell me.
To get him out of his place, we call him with ruses of “WALK!!!” or “LEASHES!!” or “PLAY BALL!” and then it’s short-term memory gone. Sometimes we try to recondition him or retrain him: hold a bag of treats as someone pretends to go up the stairs. Or we close off his access to that room. Instead of going to that space, he then skulks to a spot, the smallest place in the area: between his food bowl and a bookcase. He doesn’t tremble or whine or even attempt to draw much attention to himself. He just … hides. “YOU DON’T SEE ME!!” he chastens, inwardly, anyone who tries to offer a pat or a snuggle.
Charlie is all Charlie-oriented. A self dog: Share some? My foe? Bad cat? This shoe? Chase me? Sit here? Bury this? Charlie reminds me of the three SNL characters who inspired the bad film, “Night at the Roxbury.”
Murphy is like a massive lumbering Cadillac. He glides and saunters on the walks. He loves to sniff things, naturally. Save for the start of our walks, when he’s an unkinked knot with feet and a tail, he stays on the left side of me, as he should because that’s how I trained him.
Charlie walks widely and wildly and without cause or intention. It’s so bizarre. It’s only when we’re on a run together that he’s all business. He heels, he does not lunge at bushes or chase bees. When he knows it’s a “50 new smells a day” stroll, he is all over the place. Like a medicated alien toddler in an M5 tank, he bounds over to Murphy’s side, shoving him out of the way to smell something better, stronger, faster, deeper, longer, bestest ever. Ever. Ever.
So Murph give ups, he recedes, finds a new spot, which Charlie must yet again dominate, investigate, populate, masticate, agitate, and irrigate. When he does that, Murphy has moved on, but Charlie makes sure to spew, foist, push and kick whatever remaining flora all over my statuesque 83# thoroughbred.
Murphy actually sighed when that happened to him yesterday. We were at a tree in the forest, one of their favorite trees, and Charlie, who was busy somewhere else, caught Murph trotting up to the haunt and dashed over to pee first. Murphy, who seems to put on the air of “I was done anyway” backed off and sighed. If he could shake his head, I’d totally understand. Then we’d go find a quiet spot at the bar and order a couple Old Fashioneds.
Charlie looks up to Murphy. Lots of mouth licking and grooming going on from Charlie to Murphy. Part of me chalks that up to Charlie’s spartan beginnings, being a dog who likely wouldn’t have made it. His mother went begging for scraps, and that’s how he was eventually found. So I think Charlie is looking for morsels of food. Murphy sort of resembles Charlie’s mother too, so there’s that. They are a terrific team and it’s Charlie’s enthusiasm and near-constant court jester attitude which keeps Murphy energetic and youthful, even at his white-faced 7 years.
Murphy is king, alpha and the decidifier of all acceptable behaviors. The moment Murphy comes out to the deck to an already outside Charlie, he is greeted with the boundless enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. “AOOOOMAAAIIIGGGAAADDD!! YOU’RE HERE!!!!” It’s contagious. Murphy starts to perk up, bound a little and grab a toy and the two are at it, in a game of tug-of-war, or keep away, or chase me, or look a squirrel. They are a team. If Murphy has a bone or a rawhide or a toy he’s enjoying, such as fleecing a tennis ball, Charlie will stand by, as if to offer his assistance:
C: You want me to help you with that?
C: You need any help with that?
C: If you need me, I’ll be over here.
C: Are you sure you got it? I see a spot …
C: That sure looks good. Do you want this sock?
C: I have the lady’s shoe. You want?
M: No. Put it back.
C: Make me.
And so it goes…
Right now, they are wrestling under the table I’m typing on outside on our deck, and Murphy loves it. Maybe he knows he’s still much bigger than Charlie and at least 20 pounds heavier; he still sees him as a baby and Charlie still sees Murphy as a grown dog versus his wee 12 pounds when he was a baby.
Or Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing the hell out of these dogs like a crazy cat lady and I have no clue what I’m talking about.
Yesterday on our walk, they encountered a dead turtle. Murph was very interested at first, thinking it was alive but moved on. Charlie stayed there, almost begging it to move so he could have something to do.
For the first 25 minutes of any walk with them, they’re all “LET’S GO HERE! I’LL LEAD! LET’S DO THIS! THAT’S A FLOWER! I SMELL BACON! DON’T YOU? ARE YOU BACON??” After that, they’re basically putty. The panting begins and the leashes slacken a bit. The muzzle nudges, lean-ins, slowdowns, speed-ups, backward glances at me, with somewhat ambivalent expressions, “You sure you wanna keep going? Don’t we usually turn back at this rock? No? Here? Or here?” really gear up.
If I haven’t turned around yet, after 35 minutes, the panting has really set in. Tongues are fat and pink, hanging over the molars. Nudges intensify. They are hot, tired and sort of stupid. They bump into each other, snap at butterflies, trip on sticks. Once I turn around, they are all about it. They jump up for their leashes, “I KNOW THE WAY!” I GOT IT!” and they head home, all about the destination with very little sniffing going on.
I’m writing this because the dogs crack me up. They also bring joy to our family.
If you’re on the fence about getting a first dog, or a second dog for your first dog…
1) Seriously think about it. Some dogs do NOT warm up to each other. Make sure you have a breed which is good with other dogs — either coming in or welcoming aboard.
2) If both are adults, have them meet in a neutral spot so neither feels territorial, and back out of the scene a bit.
3) Does gender mixing matter? I’ve been told by strangers that it’s unusual that two male dogs are getting along so well, but I think it’s worked out because of the age difference and the fact that they’re both neutered.
4) Shed your narcissism: nothing in this world is an extension of yourself. Treat your dogs like dogs and everyone will be happy. Let them walk, sniff, jump, wrestle, bound, hide and careen; don’t carry them in a purse or put them in a stroller. If you need something in a purse, buy some gum; if you need something in a stroller,
have a baby, buy a doll. Put your purse in it. Now you’re halfway to being a crazy bag person. Don’t get a dog.
5) Test drive dog ownership by taking IN a friends’ dog to your home during travel; if your friend needs a safe place for Fido, be that safe place. This way, you will learn what it’s sort of like to have your a dog in your own space on your schedule. If however, you discover Fido has destroyed your sofa while you slept, bring him back home and stay with him there. Fido might not like your house and just needs to be somewhere familiar.
6) Dogs wrestle. My father was convinced at first that Charlie and Murphy were trying to kill each other. Neighbors ask the same thing. No. The dogs are being playmates and dogly when they rumble. If any aggression continues past a yelp then there’s an issue. Charlie or Murphy will yelp, “HEY! OW!” and the other will back off, head low with contrition and the game continues. Murphy also has this “GET LOST!” roar he occasionally unfurls on Charlie, and that does the trick.
7) Be a strong leader. I will concede that we got lucky. I’ve heard stories of two dogs just NOT getting along. I know more people whose dogs do get along more than not. I believe a lot of it stems from the dogs feeling deeply territorial about the
“Mom” or “Food Source.” If you make it known from the start that you won’t tolerate any hostility, they will generally follow suit.
8) Shed your neediness. Feeding off #7 and similar to #4, you have to get your personality weirdnesses and lack of assertiveness out of your relationship with all beings, but if your dog senses your weakness and that YOU JUUUST WOVE HEEEEM SOOOO MUUUUUCCCCHHH AND HEEEE’S DA BESSSSHT TING DAT EVEAH HAPPEN TO YOUUUUU… go audition for a Shirley Temple impersonation program. Don’t get a dog. That dog will “LOVE” you back in the form of neurotic outbursts, separation anxiety, aggression toward anything that smiles at you and generally any similar form of Kardashian behavior.
9) That said, don’t take any crap from your dog: you wouldn’t let a human being torpedo your crotch, jump on you the moment you come through a door, race to beat you to the door, pull you around by the wrist, yell at your friends, yell at their friends, take food from your kid, shit on the rug, tear up your shoes, sit on your lap, and beg for your food, so don’t let your dog.
Dogs are awesome, but they’re not flawless. They tolerate a lot of crap from us too.
10) Crates. Lots of people think this is cruelty, I say it’s not. Every dog is different. If you start with a puppy, using a crate is very easy and it becomes their “room” where they get to be all the time and no one is allowed in. It’s like their “NO HUMANS” zone. You remember your “NO GROWN UPS” zone, right? Still have it? Think of giving one of those to your dog(s). Charlie and Murphy each have one, side by side and they love them. They use them in the off hours. Crates are only controversial if you think it’s controversial. See #4.
11) Walk your dogs. I read somewhere that dogs need at least fifty new smells a day to stave off depression. They are born blind, using their noses to survive… take them for walks.
This is them when we got home yesterday: