On Fetching: There are things Howie does that are a function of his breed, behaviours which are indistinguishable from any other labrador retriever. If you throw a stick, he runs after it. I don’t think labs have a choice in this. They chase and fetch. They can’t help it. And whatever they’ve chased, they bring back to you. A well-trained lab will then drop it at your feet. The rest (Howie) will wiggle and wag and play keep-away. Phyllis did this, too.
On swimming: Howie hasn’t learned to swim yet, but I assume once he’s been introduced to water, he’ll be just like Phyllis, who was happier in the water than she was on land. When she got near a lake or river, she vibrated with anticipation. We used to take her to a nearby abandoned quarry for a swim, and since the fastest access point to the water was a section of the ledge six feet above the water, that’s the route she took, rather than waste the 4 seconds it would have taken her to walk around to a lower point.
On snow: Labs greet every day with a joie de vivre that spreads to everyone around them. Add snow to the mix, and they’re over the moon. My two dogs have been identical in that respect. Howie leaps through snowdrifts in the wood like a really stupid deer.
On Doggy breath: I don’t know about other breeds, but bad breath just doesn’t exist in a healthy lab. In fact, when Phyllis’ breath suddenly turned offensive, it proved to be one of the very first symptoms of her failing heart.
I didn’t want this new puppy to be just like Phyllis. I would hate it if, a year from now, my memories of the two dogs had merged into one. And happily, they haven’t.
On Bringing Presents: Howie has this thing he does in the morning that is pure Howie. Once he’s been outside, he brings me a present. Sometimes it’s his squeaky toy, sometimes it’s as sock from the laundry, sometimes it’s a bone. But he never comes to me without a gift.
On Going Pee: When Phyllis had to go outside, she went to someone and barked. Then she’d go to the door and bark. Sometimes she’d sit by the door and poke at the handle with her nose. Phyllis made sense. When Howie wants out, he comes over to someone and starts to wrestle. This is exactly the same thing he does when he wants to wrestle. So for a long time, he’d come over looking like he wanted to play, someone would play with him, then he’d pee on the floor. He isn’t any better now, but we’ve clued in to the fact this dog’s communication skills are faulty, and we adjust for that.
On Eating: We had to carefully ration Phyllis’ food, because she was a glutton, and would have eaten long past the point where she was full. This, we learned, is common among labs, so when Howie arrived with his dainty appetite, I thought he must be sick. The vet assured me there are two types of labs – the ones that are pigs and the ones that aren’t. Still, feeding Phyllis was simple. Feed dog, dog eats. Not Howie. Howie follows us out to the garage and supervises the process of measuring food into his bowl. Then he sits on the garage floor and refuses to come back inside to eat. We have to put water on his food, ignore him for a few minutes, then go to the door and welcome him like he’s a guest. Then, and only then, he’ll deign to eat. We’ve told him he’s an arsehole, but he doesn’t care.
I think my next post needs to be about why labs are very bad dogs. And maybe I'll reveal my very best puppy tip, the one I wish I'd known when Phyllis was a baby.
Phyllis - 1992-2005
A couple unrelated birdy shots for Indigo Bunting: