I’ve been waking up early lately – 4:30 or 5 a.m. has become typical. I don’t get up, but lie there going over yesterday’s high points, or plans for the day, or ways to get revenge on people that irritate me… you know, all the normal stuff people do when they wake up too early.
Yesterday the dogs and I had an especially fun play time. I was thinking about it in a few different ways this morning, and that sparked the desire to share.
First, though, play time requires some explanation and description. Four of the five dogs come outside with me. Cinder stays indoors because she is the fun police. Apparently it’s illegal to have any fun at all around Cinder, so she gets private play time. Nice and safe.
Hawkitt needs to exercise. My role is to facilitate this exercise and get out of the way. We play fetch alternating balls and frisbees, and each throw is earned. Hawk must obey commands and demonstrate self-control. Yesterday I tried issuing commands without speaking – just moving my mouth. Hawk had to read my lips. He also has to respond to whispers and shouts, and commands issued when my back is turned or I’m lying face down on the ground. He has to hop in and out of a trailer, touch the other dogs with his paws, ignore the puppy gnawing on his elbow, climb up a stack of tires, and anything else I can think of, in addition to come, down, sit, around, back up, and speak. For Hawkitt, this is all fantastic. He could go all day. I’ve never met a dog happier to team up and do fun stuff. He requires 100% of my focus and attention.
Brody has to play fetch. He is a lot that four year old kid whose parents signed him up for T-ball because the outfits are so cute. He got stuck in the outfield and he’s wandering. He’s a flower-picking butterfly-chaser. He’s eating poop. He’s lying down, chewing his ball. He’s whining and barking at his ball as he pushes it around with his paws. He will come when I call him, and chases the ball each time I throw it, but then… he needs help staying on task. He requires 100% of my focus and attention.
Bindi, the puppy, is eager to Do All The Things. She wants to chase Brody and Hawkitt, eat poop, play biteyface-tackle with Peeka, and fetch and tug with me. Her favorite game is Keepaway and she is a master. Despite the wonky paw, she is incredibly athletic. She and Hawkitt have developed an acceptance of taking turns that I sort of taught and sort of just insisted upon. I do something with Hawk – Bindi sits and waits. Then I turn to Bindi and do something with her. By now Hawk is back with the ball or frisbee. He stands still and waits. And so on. Bindi requires 100% of my focus and attention.
Peeka watches. She moves as little as possible and needs to be left alone. Tom calls her “Inertia.” A body at rest…. She asks nothing of me. She monitors the perimeter from her perch and I keep an eye on her because she is the early detection system. Dangerous intruders are visible in her facial expression at a half a mile away. Snowplows, UPS trucks, chickadees in the spruce trees, ravens across the street… all dangerous intruders. She is the only dangerous dog of the bunch so I need to know where she is and what she’s doing at all times. Thankfully she doesn’t move around much.
Each dog has specific strengths, specific talents. Hawk is just a perfect Dutch shepherd: he’s good at everything, and does it all with enthusiasm. Peeka has the most incredible nose I’ve ever experienced. If the dogs lose a ball, Peeka could find it in half the time the others take… including Hawkitt, who is more motivated, focused, and driven than Peeka, but Peeks has zero interest in helping. She’d rather snooze. Bindi is kinetic. She will leap and launch herself for the sheer joy of it. She pivots and shoots off in new directions, playing keepaway or chase like she’s an agility star. All three could be contenders in the dog sport world. Hawkie would kick ass in whatever it’s called this year (schutzhund is out. IPO might be in. IPG may be correct. PSA is another sport. Not mondio ring or French ring, though. Ring sports are a different thing.). Peeka could clean up at scent work… if you could entice her to move. And Bindi is absolutely already earned her title in the combination sport: driveway agility plus biteyface-tackle. Brody… nope. Just nope. Not him.
Because the dogs and I exist at this moment in history, we have access to ginormous quantities of information about dog sports via social media, I know way too much about all the things I’m not doing with them. Lest anyone misunderstand, let me be explicit: dog sports are great. I mean, I’m no expert since I’ve never participated in any, but from what I can see and what friends tell me – dogs and humans alike definitely gain a great deal from participating. I am not “against” sports, and I’m not critical of those who do them. I think if that works for you and your lifestyle, your family, your budget, and your dogs… there is nothing wrong or bad about sports at all. Quite the contrary.
I’ll admit it, sometimes I wonder if doing some sort of organized sport would be “better” than what happens here on the mountain. I do get sucked into comparing myself and my gang to what I see out there in the social media world of dogs, and I do engage in soul searching. Should we be doing more? Do I owe it to them?
It’s an odd feeling to be out of sync with what sure seems like the dominant paradigm. I don’t recognize myself in the dog world on social media. I do it differently, from feeding to exercising to training. And, truth be told, I’m not seduced by what I see. I don’t yearn for my life or my dogs to look more like anyone else’s. I second guess myself, and I am plagued with questions about what I can do and what I should do… but I always circle back to what I AM doing. What I do well. How the dogs look, act, feel. And that’s where I take heart. They are vibrant, healthy, happy, fun, obedient and well mannered, and full of beans (maybe not all of them get A+ in all those categories all the time, but we hold steady at good enough most of the time.).
Talent is not an imperative. Humans or dogs or any other species… talent is not a clarion call to serve. Finding peace and sharing joy are imperatives. Meeting needs is imperative. But competing in something because you happen to possess significant innate skill? I vote no.
Can I meet my dogs’ needs without competing in anything? Yes. Totally, definitely, 100% yes. Can I satisfy Hawkitt, Peeka, and Bindi without competing in anything? Yes. No question about it, no discussion: we have a blast, we work hard and play hard, they learn, grow, and blossom, and they sleep the comatose slumber of the sated. They show me with gorgeous behavior and an ever-increasing repertoire of beautifully executed commands that they are satisfied, from the tips of their toes to the depths of their soul.
The dogs don’t care. They might really enjoy all the trappings that competition would provide. They might not. They might shine… they might fizzle. I think we all know how Peeka would handle being asked to do anything in public. If there were men present, Bindi would spend her agility run hiding under the table. And Hawk? He would do whatever it took to get me to throw the goddamn ball. He would be oblivious to all the trappings of a competition, just like he is oblivious to the puppy biting his elbow or jumping on top of him while he runs through his drills.
Self-doubt is my sport, and gnawing uncertainty is my challenge. Letting go of expectations about what it means to own a dog (or five), even high drive dog/s, and simply responding to my dogs is where it’s at, at least for me. The worry, the questioning, the doubt seeps in but I think that’s part of the human condition in this modern age, whether it’s dogs or human physical health, mental health, nutrition, fitness, eco-consciousness, home organization, or any other arena in which everyone else seems to be better-happier-cleaner-tidier-thinner-more-productive etc. than me. Developing the confidence to shrug all that shit off, be happy for those that are doing more with their dogs, and head back outside with my goofballs is my plan. I don’t know what we’ll “work on” today, but I know it won’t feel like work for any of us.