A Dog's Life
When one considers a dog's life, one often enviously contemplates its simplicity, but the reality is quite the contrary. This was the focus of my thinking as I spent sometime yesterday with a man Rich and his grandson, Lincoln.
Rich is a 70 year old, disabled veteran of the Vietnam war who is raising his 7 year old grandson, Lincoln, due to a series of circumstances beyond either's control. Lincoln desperately wants a dog which is was what led them to be at our place. Rich called me in his search for a canine companion for Lincoln. I informed him that I didn't have anything available at the moment but offered that they were welcome to come and meet the Revilo crew and I could explain what was coming by way of pups in the near future.
Upon their arrival Lincoln was a little shy, but I introduced him to each of the dogs in turn and allowed him to get to know each one. In this process I just stayed back and observed. It was amazing how responsive each of the dogs was to this young boy. Within a few minutes each of the dogs was obeying his commands to sit and were retrieving the plug he tossed for them, bringing it to his hand and anxiously awaiting the next toss. They sat quietly as he fussed over them, stroking their heads and talking incessantly to them. They would stare into his eyes and cock their heads as if listening intently to his conversation and understanding every word he was saying.
I was once again reminded of the complexity of tasks required of our retrievers. While most of us own retrievers in order to participate in field sports, whether it is field trials, hunt tests, waterfowling, upland bird hunting or some other manifestation of competition, the reality is that they are expected to fulfill many other roles as well.
Regardless how much time we pursuit our respective sports most of a retriever's life is spent as a member of our family. In that role they are expected to interact with their humans in a variety of roles. Whether we ask them to ride a long to get groceries, or play baseball in the backyard with the kids, or lie at our feet before the fire, or a plethora of other roles they are game.
In every role a different 'gear' is in order. In their role in the field we want them to be in high gear, doing everything they do with dispatch and style. In the house we want them to be quiet and subdued. When playing with the kids, depending on the ages of the children we expect our canine companions to respond according to the appropriate activity level.
(Norris a 15 week old pup)
This was recently brought home to me when I received a call from a couple, Randy and Kathy, who are a retired couple and were looking for a canine companion. I had a two year old female, Dandy, who I decided to place in a good home since I had decided not to use her in our breeding program. It sounded like a match made in heaven. The only worry I had was that Dandy had not spent any time in the house and while I thought she'd probably take to it like a duck to water, there was still a little worry on my part. I told Randy and Kathy to take her and try her for a few weeks before making a final decision. After two days Randy sent me the attached picture of Dandy - looks like she made the transition pretty well.
There are many explanations of what enables a dog to transition into the required role, often at a moments notice. Intelligence is the most encompassing explanation. I have often flippantly noted to people that if a dog does not know the difference between hunting and loafing in front of a fireplace, it's not too bright, but really that is the crux of the matter. Obviously, intelligence is a composite of traits, but for the purposes of this conversation we will just leave it at that.
Labradors are noted for their 'people skills' and are masters at pleasing their humans, and why would a smart dog do otherwise? I remember a time when I was visiting my friend Gunther Rahnefeld at his home Brandon, Manitoba. The two of us had just finished eating supper and Gunther asked if I'd like a bowl of ice cream. Never one to turn down dessert I enthusiastically answered "Yes Please!". I watched as Gunther took three bowls out of the cupboard. I thought, perhaps Gunther was particularly fond of ice cream, but I didn't say anything. He gave me a bowl and he placed one at his setting then he reached down and gave the third bowl to his great dog, NFTCH AFTCH Call Me Mister Independence, 'Spook', who was lying quietly on the floor. Being a good dog has its just rewards.
As I interacted with Rich and Lincoln yesterday I was reminded why I love these wonderful canines so much, it's because they love us unconditionally. Their ability to read a situation and transition the required role is not a simple thing but is very complex. Most humans I know are less accomplished at transitioning to required roles than our dogs are. Indeed a dog's life is one to be envied but should never be equated to simplicity.