Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's a Dog's Life

Lola the Poodle went to Melanie's beauty parlor yesterday. When she's due for a bath and haircut, she begins to act like a tramp. Afterwards, she appears to realize that she is beautiful.

To my eyes, Lola is always beautiful because I think I see her soul. I forget her age, as I do with all beautiful creatures unless required to take age into account. She is "middle aged," though her spirit is infused with puppy. It is also infused with the spirit of Trickster, all 60 pounds of velvety blackness of her.

Poodles have a distinctive sort of doggy intelligence. Twenty years ago the poodles in my life were the sisters, Bjiou Cybelle and Sugarshed Abbey Road. Bij was a bandit. Abbey was exuberant within an overall sense of decorum. Beeve, given the opportunity, would lick the skin off my face. Ab would not lick anything but sliced turkey, though she would graciously accept the tip of my nose briefly touching hers. I have a picture of the puppy Bijou joyously uprooting black-eyed susans. There is no such memory of royal, regal, Abbey.

Beaver badly needed to be dominated by an Alpha Male, or else! She would literally throw tantrums and pretend to be a mad dog until San and I learned something about giving the poor thing a sense of her place in the cosmos. Bijou and Abbey were classmates in Mrs. Cordner's obedience class, and they came in #1 and #2 at the graduation trials. I think Beeve won people's hearts because anyone could tell that at the merest suggestion of permission, she would bolt at the speed of sound and wanted everyone to see that! She was just fabulously delighted to be (just barely) following my orders. Abbey, always operating within the envelope, never gave the impression that mahem was just a hair's breadth away. Bij chased tennis balls. "We do not chase balls," said Abbey. "We prefer to be walked or turned loose to play in a field of alfalfa, please."

My Lolita, Lo, or Low-la has taught me a thing or two about doggie intelligence. One night up at the park in winter, the ground covered in snow, I turned her loose to race around. She lost interest in solo behavior very quickly and "taught" me to be interactive. I could prompt more racing by feinting sudden moves at her or by roaring. (None of her solo running compared with the impression she gave of a Whippet the night she and Tommy The Whippet chased each other to the brink of heart failure.)

On one of those winter nights, she taught me to play "come here." She invented this; we had never done anything like it. I turned her loose and walked away from her. She stayed put. When I got about a hundred feet away I turned to face her. She didn't move. I didn't move. Then I made the smallest hand signal for "come," a signal I had not taught her, and she bolted right at me. She had taught me to command her in a fun way.

Lo is a performer and she can be high-strung when seeing people who are not dressed in the expected way. Anyone wearing a hood is "not a human being, possibly a danger." Anyone waking to or from a UPS truck is not to be trusted. Anyone with a spotted dog or a big shaggy one can expect lunges and roars for a while. While walking her, I have learned to anticipate lunges, and she has learned to sense the counter-measures I'm ready to take. More often than not, her need for attention is satisfied when she senses that I'm ready for her funny business.

I keep her interest with little treats, when it's "treat time" after her morning "out." Offering her a treat frontally is an invitation to have her lunge and take your fingers along with the treat. However, offering a treat "backhand" or with my back turned, always results in the most gentle transfer, almost with a doggy kiss. She's a different "person" when I pique her interest that way.

Sometimes interacting with people entails a similar readiness for variety or play. Dogs have a way of socializing us, don't they?

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