Monday, September 7, 2009

How I Labor for My Dog

Given that I often write about all the wonderful jobs dogs do for us, you might have thought that would be my subject on Labor Day. But I decided to turn things around a bit and give some thought to the effort I put into my dogs. It isn't a one-way street after all.
Nestle is my first at least part herding dog, and that meant I worked quite a bit harder than I had with my previous retriever-type dogs. As a youngster, he had energy to burn. . . constantly. There was no way I could keep up with him. So I worked very very hard on his recall (he's also part sighthound, and I figured I was going to have to fight visual stimuli pretty hard) so that he could enjoy some off-leash freedom. And I took considerable time to get him over his fear of water -- he wouldn't even step in a little streamlet of water at the beginning. Then we used our many local beaches, where high bluffs blocked most avenues of exit, and he could run through the sand and burn up energy. He began to herd waves on his own, running along the curl and barking at the end where it broke. That became one of our regular sources of entertainment and energy outlet.
We took up agility to help boost his confidence, and I had to engage in a lot more training (though it was fairly enjoyable) and more work to get him over his many fears. We even competed a bit, though that was never the point.
We learned the basics of herding and, because my wool sheep were big and heavy and didn't more very quickly, I bought Barbados blackbelly sheep specifically for Nestle because they run like antelope. He enjoyed them!
I labor daily to earn the money to pay for the very high-class food my dogs consume, and the regular visits to the vet for laser therapy to keep Nestle's dysplastic hips and surgical knees operating well. But I still carve out time nearly every day for an outing, whether it's just up the road to my brother's pond walk or an hour's drive in one direction or the other to a speical beach or waterfall walk or whatever.
At home, the heavy Plexiglas saloon doors of the dog door have to be scrubbed regularly, the front floor-to-ceiling window has to have the nose prints wiped away, the dog hair has to be vacuumed out of every nook and cranny, the dog beds have to be washed and freshened, poop has to be picked up, nails have to be trimmed, teeth have to be brushed. The list goes on and on. I also feed Nestle's companion dog, Diamond, who at over 16 years of age has to be reminded to eat, and doesn't just get a bowl of food put down.
Do I begrudge any of this time? Well, maybe the vacuuming. Nestle is a heavy shedder, even though his coat isn't long. But generally, it's a small price to pay for the companionship of dogs.

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