By Scott Hunt
The Dog Grumbler
IT’S 11am. After a morning walk and drive around a few cherished locations and a trip to the butcher for a bag of bones I am safely home.
I turn off the ignition, exit the vehicle, close the driver’s door, open the adjacent passenger door and all hell breaks loose.
It’s the mix; the kelpie, the spoodle, the whippet — they each want to smell something in my back yard. Right now.
Hurtling out in a mass of limbs and fur that throws the door at me they disperse, noses down, instantly engrossed in something incredibly important.
The toy and the yorkie are older and more sedate in their egress. He waits and exits the car behind her.
She lives here. She smelled it all this morning. She lifts her nose high and scans the area from the driveway while I close the gate.
She finds a spot she likes and settles to watch like a Sphinx over her own Gaza. On the job.
The yorkie is the only male. He has an entirely different agenda.
He’ll pause to check new smells but he completes a full lap of the boundary, refreshing his calling card at the same places as always.
The girls are working their snouts like metal detectors back and forth. On the job.
Unlike the yorkie, who likes uprights, their calling cards kill my lawn.
I enter the house, choose a couple of bones and by the time I get back to the door, the kelpie and the spoodle are waiting. The rest are watching.
I throw both bones on the lawn and the kelpie jumps on one of them, then lunges at the spoodle when the latter moves to inspect the second.
The kelpie piles both bones together and chews furtively, constantly watching the spoodle and casting the odd glance over the others, growling fiercely at any who approach.
Eventually some sound or smell will spark her interest and draw her to inspection, at which point the spoodle will grab one bone and move it away.
The others will watch while the toy strolls across to the remaining bone, looks around, settles and goes to work.
If the kelpie approaches either they will snarl viciously.
I don’t need to watch any of this; I see it every week and it will only change if the mix is different.
The kelpie isn’t the biggest dog here; she’s the youngest.
The toy isn’t hungry; she had leftover bacon and omelette this morning. She’s the oldest.
The yorkie is always hungry but he’s staying right out of it.
If I throw a ball right now the spoodle and the kelpie will both take up the chase. If it doesn’t bounce the kelpie’s way she will defer to the spoodle to bring it back.
Whoever gets it will make a point of keeping it from the other.
Right now I’m making lunch while I watch through my kitchen window.
I have the usual activities planned for the afternoon (when the border collie and the red heeler arrive); we will drive, walk, stop, walk, chase balls, walk, drive, walk, stop.
The kelpie will be in my face the whole time to throw something — anything.
The spoodle will take possession of something and bring it home. It could be a ball, a stick, a small tree.
The yorkie will challenge anyone who comes near his harem even though all are desexed.
The spoodle will take the back left window and the kelpie the back right.
The whippet will occupy the centre and watch the road ahead.
I think there’s a connection between the jobs and duties dogs perceive for themselves and the way they do lunch.
I think the kelpie eats first because she will burn the most energy later, lest the balls or sticks get away.
I think the spoodle’s job is not the chase, but the return; she needs energy and focus, but not explosive pace.
The toy is the oldest. Fetch is something she does, then tires of quickly; not a job as with the other two. She takes her turn at the bones to stamp her authority.
She exercises her authority in other groups too. She is blood-curdling when straightening out the groodle or the schnoodle (I’m not making this up – there’s oodles), almost screaming as she stands over their heads, grabbing their throats and necks whenever they step out of line.
Each is many times her size and weight but younger — juvenile.
But here’s the thing: these guys are a crew.
They live for this get-together. They wait at the gate, they charge from their homes, they squeal with impatience, they assume free rein in each other’s houses.
And each week as each dog joins the company, eskimo kisses are exchanged eagerly.
As I keep saying, a dog’s umweldt remains beyond my grasp, but here’s what I take from this:
Every dog needs a job. If there’s no obvious vacancy they will make something up.
Feed you dog your leftovers — this is why they exist. This ritual underpins your relationship.
Don’t be afraid to grumble at your dog — it’s an integral part of their language.
Don’t be dismayed by eskimo kisses — someone is pleased to see you.