teaching old dogs new tics

Dear Uma: Pete's not coming home for his next two weeks off. I hope it has nothing to do with me answering the phone with "Pete who?" when he called last week, or the fact that I scarcely registered his being here on his last two weeks home.

Dear Uma:

Pete’s not coming home for his next two weeks off. I hope it has nothing to do with me answering the phone with “Pete who?” when he called last week, or the fact that I scarcely registered his being here on his last two weeks home.

One day I was at Swift River before I thought to tell him I was going to Whitehorse; now that was awkward.

It’s just that when I get immersed in work, it’s hard to remember to pay attention to the rest of my life, especially to remember there is another person in it.

He is going to Mexico with a guy from the mine who also loves to fish. They’ll stay with Dane and Giselle; I guess Pete thinks their honeymoon hots will have eased up a bit by now.

My feeling about this is not clear. After much to-ing and fro-ing, I think I’ll go with my very first response, which was a spurt of relief; now I can really settle into work and maybe finish early and even possibly surprise him in Mexico.

Sadly, I think I said the ‘hurrah’ part out loud to Pete when he called to tell me he’ll be going from the mine to Whitehorse to catch a flight out of winter. He sounded sort of distant when he hung up.

This marriage thing is not easy, even when one has begun it late in life. There are feelings everywhere and I seem to be too often tripping over Pete’s.

Nobody told me that people changed, even after getting married. I was counting on Pete to stay Pete: happy with his work and busy with it, liking to hang out with his buddies and do buddy things like watch sports events and go fishing and hunting.

These days he wants to hang out with me when he is home, and he is newly involved in exploring his feelings about everything.

It is a good thing I am not a pogonophobe as he has also decided he must be crinose in order to best express who he really is. Every time he comes home there is some new aspect to this man with whom I have agreed to share my life.

It’s nerve-wracking is what it is, and I am sincerely hoping it is a kind of male menopause and he will soon get back to normal.

Meanwhile, when I am not working I browse the ‘net for information on dogs. We are getting a dog this spring—a fur kid of our own. We must be the only people in this entire town who are dogless; in fact, most yards contain more than one dog.

In my search I have discovered there is far more to owning a dog than a collar and a leash and a sack of dog food. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of sites advertising ‘dog apparel’; dogs need boots, coats, and personalized collars and leashes. They also can have T-shirts, with messages, of course.

There are goggles for dogs (???), and an astounding variety of beds, from a big cushion to a canopied bed, with pillows.

For the sporty outdoorsy dog, as opposed to the couch potato dog, there are backpacks and collapsible water dishes, the latter marketed under the catchy name Outward Hound.

Dogs need pedicures and hair cuts, and often their eyes need stuff to keep them from watering and staining their furry faces. Ick.

Hundreds of books are advertised: books on choosing your dog, caring for your dog and training your dog. If I lived in a larger town, I could be busy each and every day attending classes on grooming, obedience training and special kinds of training, like dog agility. The latter raises questions: are not dogs naturally agile? I was counting on it.

There is a bewildering array of breeds to choose from, and warnings everywhere to be certain to chose the type of dog that will work best with one’s lifestyle.

Pete once said (less than affectionately) my lifestyle would best suit a bat, but I want a diurnal pet, not one that wants to share my work hours with me.

Oddly, the three breeds that have most attracted me are all of Turkish origin.

The Akbash dog was my first pick, due to the photo. There he stood, big and splendid, with the dome-shaped head that looks as though there is lots of brain room, unlike the Afghan hounds and the collies and Dobermans who look as though their skulls were hose-clamped when they were puppies in order to get that long skull the width of two fingers.

The Akbash, I learn, was bred to protect livestock in far-flung pastures. After trying to imagine flinging a pasture, I read on. He is an independent thinker and he has a strong protective instinct. Now that I like, what with all the bears and wolves that may be encountered on our rambles.

Being that I am not a sheep, will this strong protective instinct apply to me, I wonder, or will he think as I am also an independent thinker, I can look after myself?

He is loyal and calm—good, because I am neither.

His coat is said to be weather-resistant; now all those doggie jackets and anoraks being flogged on the internet are explained. Silly me, thinking every dog’s coat is going to be weather-resistant.

Just as I was certain the Akbash and I were meant to be together, I read the following statement:

“These animals are not recommended for those who are new to dog ownership; they will try to dominate, and must respect their owners.”

Well, I’ll be doggoned! Who knew there were such dogs? The dominatrix of the canine world.

The Anatolian Shepherd was next; he too is bred to herd and guard. This dog also is stubborn and dominant, I read, and must have

strong leadership from his owner.

It was getting a bit discouraging, this search for the perfect match. I knew I wanted a big dog, but I wasn’t prepared to work at earning his respect; I just wanted him to like me, enjoy walks and be grateful for treats.

I next scrolled through the information on the Sivas Kangal dog, again going by the photo. This dog is aloof, and very controlled, not a good choice, they say, for “newbies.”

OK, time to look at a different sort of dog.

The Shar Pei is weird-looking, but I checked it out anyway because its fun to say ‘Shar Pei.’ I could imagine saying, “I have a Shar Pei,” causing people to wonder if it was a sports car or an intricate piece of kitchen equipment.

This being Watson Lake, no one would actually ask, of course. Lakers have an absolute horror of being exposed to something outside their experience, of having to be seen inputting new information.

The Shar Pei will not do; they are described as being very reserved and suspicious of strangers, and while those are qualities that would definitely suit living here, the news about their tendency to entropion put me right off.

Every kennel so far to which I have sent inquiries seems to have only puppies available; Pete and I are in harmony with the stipulation that our dog must be a dog, meaning housebroken. Neither of us wants to be dealing with the mess of teaching our animal companion to do his winky-tinking and winky-wobbling out of doors.

There is still some lingering debate as to who will do the poop pickup in the yard, with me appearing to be the obvious choice; I am home most of the time and I am the one who has been most enthusiastic about expanding our family unit with a dog, though the new Pete has warmed up to the idea…

I am thinking more seriously of going with your suggestion and looking in the animal shelter in Whitehorse, though on the internet there is much advice against this manner of acquiring a dog due to the often unknown history of the animal’s antecedents.

There is a nice man who walks his dog by our place every day; he and I have enjoyed many conversations regarding dogs and the rewards of having one. He, too, is very much in favour of adopting a dog and highly recommends the shelter; his nice animal is from that very place.

Like you, he says my dog will choose me, and that will be that.

The notion makes me nervous; what exactly will the dog recognize?

What sort of dog would choose me? A big dog that will figure because I am an inexperienced owner, a “newbie,” it can assume the alpha role? Will I end up with a dog that likes me, but bullies me, demanding treats, refusing to walk where I want to go? A dog that will have no respect for me?

Or, will I be chosen by something small and fluffy and clownish? The antithesis of my dream dog?

Uma, is there something I can do to ensure I am selected by the one I want? A scent to spray on? What should I wear?

Why is this beginning to remind me of a blind date?



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.