Jul 29, 2010

On Owning a Herding Breed Dog (or Why I Have Been Losing My Sanity)

When I got my dog off Craig's List two years ago, I was told he was some kind of German Shepherd Lab Mix, maybe-and-we-can't-remember?  Apparently, every dog on Craig's List and in every dog shelter is a German Shepherd mixed with something.  Those German Shepherds... watch out for them.  Lock away your pretty girl dogs!  Here comes a German Shepherd and he looks like a player...

I digress (again, are you shocked?).  I figured that this pup was the perfect dog for me because a) I like Labs, and b) I like German Shepherds, and also c) our family had owned both and I knew their energy levels and felt I could cope with them.

HAHAH!  That's funny!  You know what else is funny?  My dog isn't a German Shepherd Lab Mix.  He's mostly English Shepherd.  And lastly, the most hilarious part about all of this is that his energy level is just like that of a German Shepherd Lab Mix, if that German Shepherd Lab Mix happened to be on speed.

By now, if you are a seasoned dog owner, you may be thinking that "a tired dog is a happy dog," and all that crap, and that I should walk this dog more and all my problems would be solved.  HAHAH!  Silly you!

Every day, I get up at the crack of dawn so I can walk for an hour or so, with my dog running off the leash in circles.  Then, every afternoon, we go to the dog park and walk around another hour or more.  I walk 5 miles a day, roughly, and the dog runs about 15-20, more or less.  In the evening, we practice tricks and mental stimulation games.  Food bills have increased for both of us, since I walk about 1,500 miles a year, and he runs...ummm... math....4,500 or more.  My social life must be worked around dog walking times or I pay the consequences later that evening:

Two vets and a dog trainer told me at separate times, "Wow... it's so great that you kept him.  Because...hmm... well, you know most people can't keep up with a dog like this one. And a lot of times these dogs end up in shelters."  Then I started crying and begged the vets for dog tranquilizers and they didn't give them to me.

The dog park people know me as the "Ready...Ready...Go!" girl.  If you have ever had a herding breed dog, you will know that RRG can quickly become a favorite sport, if not a complete OCD problem.  In this game, the dog comes up to you, stares at you with crazy-eyes and his tongue hanging out, and walks backward while stepping on your toes and sometimes your shins.

This is your cue to say, "Ready...ready....GO!"  as if this were the most suspenseful and eventful moment of your life.  The dog tears off, bounds through the grass like an antelope, makes a huge loop, and returns, panting hysterically, and in my dog's case usually with a strand of saliva lying across his nose.

Then, you must repeat this eleventy billion more times.

You think you can take a break from this? HAHAH!  WRONG!  You must continue.  And, if you perhaps do this in a place where there is nowhere to tear off into the bushes, or your voice inflection is wrong, or the planets are not aligned correctly, the dog will latch on to your arm and remind you that you are Incorrect.

The other fabulous thing about having a hyper-neurotic dog is that they develop phobias.  (Disclaimer: I have been to the vet and he told me this was normal... I am not a bad dog owner.)  My dog, for example, has developed a phobia of the neighbors upstairs running their shower.  This might not seem like such a huge problem, except that the neighbors have a teenage son who apparently needs to shower eighteen times a day, which means that my dog spends a lot of his day hiding under a desk and staring at the ceiling in abject terror.

His latest phobia is that of the storm drains outside my patio.  He has started approaching it very cautiously, as if Stephen King's It Clown might pull him down at any moment as he returns from his pees.

Neighbor: What is your dog doing?
Me: Oh you know...he's just terrified of the storm drain.
Neighbor: Um.  Haven't you had him here for two years now?
Me: Uh... yes, yes I have.
Neighbor:  I see... is he suddenly scared of the storm drain?
Me:  Oh... you know... he's umm.... well... really  I have no idea.
(awkward silence...)

Now, if you follow those tv shows about dog training, you will often see the dog trainer suggesting that dogs develop phobias if owners secretly have these phobias, or if perhaps the owner reinforces the dog's phobia by soothing it when it is frightened.

I am here to declare that I am secretly afraid of neither storm drains nor running shower water.  And I generally ignore my dog when he goes nuts, except that I may sometimes occasionally roll my eyes.

So maybe, just maybe, the dog is just neurotic on his own, of his own volition.

God, I love that dog.


  1. You're so great at drawing Riles!

  2. Thanks! It's cuz I've got so much practice looking at him and stuff. :0)

  3. Suggestions: 1) Bicycle!; 2) Make the next one a Chow.
    Of course, one of my Chows developped a phobia about electronic fly killers and one of the current ones goes nuts when the heater/air conditioner in the car is running. Most of the time.

    I just LOVE your drawings.

  4. Thanks, Margot! I wish we could go biking together, but he had his hips damaged as a pup and has a hard time running at one speed for extended times. Maybe a chow would be the right answer! But no more dogs for a very, very long time!!! ;0)