methow grist 2011-2014 archive

Dog Stereotypes

Courtesy of the (now sleeping) Goat Wall Street Journal

Many of us grew up with Bullet, Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie as our ideal canine companions. I always believed I deserved a movie star dog but somehow all of mine turned out to be Plutos.

Our current dog is a malamute. She is an ideal dog for our northern climate. She’s beautiful to look at and has a friendly personality. She never objected to being tied when that was necessary. She quickly learned not to kill chickens or rabbits, and not to chase deer.

When she grew out of her puppyhood between three and four years of age, we found ourselves living with a dog with traits that just didn’t fit the image of the stereotype we envisioned for “our dog.”

As a youngster she was dog-napped one night and driven 90 miles across the mountains. I was pretty sure that the people who took her would soon discover she was not a good car dog (drools) nor completely house-broken and would decide to let her find her own way home. We sent notices to places along the highway and in a few days received a call from an animal shelter.

We described her to the attendant and when the dog heard the familiar command to “sit” in Russian and began to howl over the telephone we knew it was our dog. We leaped into the truck and drove across the mountains to bail her out, knowing how frightened she must be to be stolen from her home in the middle of the night, surrounded by strangers.

When we arrived at the shelter, after paying her fines, we were taken to the lockup to be reunited with our pet. We said, “There she is,” and the attendant swung open the door. We froze in that moment of anticipation, of joyful reunion. She barely sniffed us on her way to the front hall to get in on the real action of more people, cats, and other more interesting things. The attendant looked at our disappointed faces and asked, “Are you sure this is your dog?” It was, but she apparently never realized she had been lost.

When my husband goes for a walk after dinner, she either waits on the porch or goes the length of the driveway, then stops and waits. We finally figured out that she is afraid of the dark. She sits on the porch in the light or under the yard light. She’ll bravely chase coyotes or bears if someone backs her up with a flashlight.

One of her bothersome traits is that she doesn’t like to go for walks in the woods or to the river. Let me amend that. She gets very excited at the prospect of such an occasion, but when it happens she’ll disappear at some point and be waiting at home.

What drives me mad is her attitude toward food. She is a robust dog, about 90 pounds. Most dogs I’ve known not only relish commercial dog treats but gobble up scraps as through they might disappear if they don’t grab them and the offering hands. This dog will carefully sniff a newly cut piece of roasted meant, then delicately take it in her teeth with lips curled out of the way. She’ll drop the tidbit and nose it a while, or sit beside it before actually eating it. It is a strange experience to live eight years with a dog that acts as though we might be trying to poison her.

I don’t know why people have dogs but I do know that our expectations have been shaped by the dogs we grew up with on movie and TV screens. My stereotypical dog is strong, brave, loyal, smart, eager to please, just the right size and shape. We train ourselves against stereotyped expectations in people and maybe, someday, dogs will have their day.

Some people say that we match our pets and this may be true. I sometimes don’t know when I am lost, prefer short excursions into the woods rather than long ones, and I am also afraid of the dark. But in one way, this dog and I are very different. I always accept snacks.


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