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Friday, January 13, 2012

10 lessons from the dogs

  I know I've mentioned our troublemaking charming dogs here and there on this blog before.  They're often a source of conversation at work (most patients think it's more normal to talk about pets than, say, four hour training rides), and sometimes I think that Dave and I spend more time interacting with them at night than we do with each other.  Heck, Bailey even sleeps between us practically every night, and gets all cranky if we try to move her.  So, on Wednesday, I was walking the dogs back home from a romp in the woods, where they had rolled in crap, and thus needed baths.  Somewhat frustrated with them at the time, I began to think that although we often question their intelligence (or, in Bailey's case, lack thereof), maybe they could teach me a thing or two.  So here goes (and yes, I realize this is entirely random).

1. Movement=pleasure
One Monday over the summer, after a weekend of hard training, I had just finished up an hour of hills on the bike, after a long swim.  Tired, I debated if I a. even felt like going for a short, 30min trail run, which featured unrelenting hills and b. felt like taking Bailey with me.  Well, guilt won out, and five minutes into our run, with me still dragging a bit, Bailey turned around at the end of her leash and just flashed me a giant, dopey dog smile.  In that moment, she was in a state of pure doggy bliss.  Try to enjoy this even half as much as her, I thought.  You do this as a labor of love, after all.
Galloping through snow=happy Moose

2. It's ok to get dirty sometimes.  Do it with enthusiasm.
In the Durand woods near our house, there's two areas that tend to get very wet and muddy.  Of course, when we get to those areas, Bailey and Moose plow through the dirtiest, nastiest, grossest of the mud, while I cringe and calculate if I have time to bathe them before work.  Or, they'll smell something awful on the ground, and before I have a chance to even react, will dive into it, headfirst, and just cover themselves in nasty.  I can just see them thinking, oohhh.  It's so disgusting.  But it's soooo good.  While I don't recommend bathing yourself in dead animals or crap, sometimes it's ok to run through the mud and nasty up my sneakers, to embrace finishing a bike ride on wet roads with dirt splattered up my legs, or, after a week of having to look all professional at work, to just enjoy getting on my hands and knees in my garden in the summer, putting in vegetable seeds.  That's what showers are for, after all. Which leads to the next lesson.

3. Having to bathe kind of sucks sometimes.  But, it can be pretty awful if you don't do it.
Bailey sort of puts up with baths ok.  The Moose, on the other hand, hates them, and will only face out of the bathtub.  Try to turn her around to spray the other end, and she'll gradually rotate herself again.  Sometimes, I think of how much more time I'd have in life if showering daily wasn't a necessity.  But, clearly, bathing a mutt when it rolls in who knows what is needed, and not being a gross, smelly person is pretty necessary to function normally in society, as well.
The bathtub is so awful!

4. If you want something, go after it.  Give it all you've got to chase it down.
For Bailey, this means squirrels.  For the Moose, this also means squirrels, but, to an even greater degree, deer.  Will Bailey ever catch a squirrel?  Probably not.  Will Moose ever catch a deer?  Not unless it's injured.  But they don't know this.  They'll continue to chase after them time and time again, never losing hope or enthusiasm.
Sometimes, though, you'll just get handed what you want, especially if you have a cool aunt.  It's ok to accept that sometimes, too.

5. Some of us are natural born swimmers.  Some of us can learn.  Others of us will avoid the water entirely.  Some prefer to run.  To each their own.
At ten weeks old (maybe), my sister's yellow lab puppy Otis had his first experience with water up at Lake Ontario.  An adorable little puppy, all floppy ears and huge paws at the time, Otis was swimming away off the bat.  To this day, he'll happily swim in anything, never tiring of retrieving a tennis ball from the family pool.  Her other dog, Abe, wasn't a swimmer before Otis, preferring to stay where he could touch in the water.  After observing Otis (and with some coaxing), Abe has finally gotten to the point where he'll do some limited swimming.  Abe, though, is an eager running dog, making it through 15 miles with me one time, without ever lagging behind, prior to collapsing for a couple days with skinned paws.  I prefer to think of myself as similar to Abe.  Then there's Moose and Bailey.  Moose, being a sensitive little thing at times (that's a nice way of saying "shelter dog issues"), will splash through streams, but will run scared from anything that might require her to swim.  Then there's Bailey.  We've tried taking her in my sister's pool before, and I wish I had video of it.  That dog absolutely cannot swim correctly, to a comical level.  She'll thrash at the water with her front paws, like she's trying to climb out.  But, provided it's not too hot out, that animal is one fantastic runner.
Otis meets water for the first time.  

6. Sometimes, we should just forget about our back halves, and let them work naturally.
One night, my mom and I were observing Bailey perform the very normal dog behavior of scratching her face.  Suddenly, she stopped, looked at her leg in confusion, and began to gnaw on it (I never said she was the sharpest knife in the drawer...).  Then, she began to scratch again.  This cycle repeated itself a few times, to our amusement.  But, sometimes I try to forget about my legs, too, and just let them work-i.e. at the end of a long run, when everything is fatigued, or when pushing out bike sprints, when my quads are burning to no living end.
I know my head is getting petted.  My legs are just doing something.  I don't really know why.

7. No matter where we come from, what our pedigree is, or what we look like, we all have the same basic needs and wants.  There's no need to judge.
Moose and Bailey are certifiable mutts.  Bailey's some sort of greyhound/pointer, to our best estimation, whereas Moose is maybe part cattle dog, part chow, part beagle, and part anyone's guess is as good as mine.  Do they know what the heck they are?  No.  Does somebody's purebred dog know what the heck it is?  No.  It cracks me up when I see some sort of purebred fluffy little dog, all perfectly groomed and dressed up with bows or sweaters or whatever else; I'm also amused by anyone at work who tries to tell me that their dog is particularly clean or proper in some way.  In my opinion, a dog's a dog.  No matter what their AKC papers or haircuts say, they all lick their own buttholes, sniff each other's buttholes, roll in gross crap, hump inappropriately, and poop in the backyard.  It's not like some purebred dog is going to avoid my dogs because their parents weren't the same type.  Dogs don't know.  People should be more like that sometimes.
Some purebreds, some mutts.  They actually all started humping each other shortly after this picture was taken.  They didn't care.

8. Use your strengths when you can.
Bailey is one fast dog; part greyhound, she can sprint.  The Moose, all short, stocky, non-aerodynamic 35 lbs of her, is not nearly as swift.  But, the Moose is as agile as Bailey is fast.  Bailey, on the other hand, has no control over her lanky, awkward body when she's moving full tilt.  When they chase each other around in the backyard or in the woods, Bailey will run huge circles, practically wiping out sometimes as she tries to turn.  The Moose, with her superior intellect, will keep up with her by cutting tangents, making sharp turns, or suddenly reversing directions to cut Bailey off.  They end up matching each other well.

9. No matter where you end up, always know your way home.
Three days after the NYC marathon, when I was still sort of decrepit, I took the dogs to the woods, let them off leash, and started on a different path that wouldn't tax my quads as much with steep downhills. Within a minute, the dogs spotted a deer, and took off (see #4).  Bailey came back to me within a couple of minutes, but, ten minutes later, Moose was still gone.  Dave met me in the woods, and, after another 20 minutes of frantic yelling and walking around, still no Moose.  He grabbed Bailey to run the rest of our normal loop, and I decided to walk back home. Half a mile away, Moose came running out of the neighbor's backyard to greet me, giving me a look of I was home.  Where were you? I have no idea where she had gone, but, she knew how to get back to where she's fed.  Stupid, yet smart, dog.
We're not necessarily convinced this one could find its way out of a cardboard box.  But we hope she'd miss being a spoiled pain in the butt and sleeping all cozily in the bed.

10.  Not everyone will love you.  Many people may not even like you.  That shouldn't stop you from at least trying to be nice (unless, of course, someone is threatening you in some way).

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