11 August 2017

The Small Dog Chronicles. A Different Experience

Small Dog Chronicles: Getting A Better View

Gus is only a few months old, but he seems older to me, and it feels like he has been here a long time. He has settled in very well, and is a dominant presence on a farm with a lot of strong characters.

He was stunned to meet his first donkey a few weeks ago, now, he will happily sit on Lulu or Fanny's back to get a better view of things, at least until he slides off. He is alert and careful, but not afraid of much.

It is no longer surprising for me to see Gus lick a sheep on the nose or sit up on a donkey's back.

I've had my eye on the breed for a while, but I was also interested in getting a small dog to learn about the experience and understand better why it is so important to people.

I get the Lab thing and the border collie thing and the rescue dog thing, I've done that and more than once. But as someone who writes about dogs, I felt incomplete not ever having had one of the many millions of small dogs that are an animal subculture all of their own.

I am not an over-the-top kind of person, not with a grandkid, not with a small dog puppy. My granddaughter will not take over my life, nor will Gus.  Neither will transform my life or blow me away.

I just don't go over the top. I worship perspective, and I love my life, I won't give it over to any other thing but my wife. And even then, we prize our separate identities.

Gus will not be dressing up in costumes, riding in carriages, wearing cashmere sweaters or Scottish caps. If he's cold, he might get a sweater, as my vet suggests, and I will avoid that if at all possible. We don't go much in for baby talk, and do not treat him like a child. He is dog.

So what have I learned about small dogs?

It is obviously quite easy to emotionalize them, they are cute and small and often replicate the feelings and needs of a human baby. They push all kinds of nurturing buttons. In the emotionalized world of dogs, small dogs are an invitation to talk baby talk, be overprotective, pick them up a lot,  cuddle like one would a baby,  provide car seats and special harnesses,  and snuggle endlessly. They can so easily be child surrogates.

I'm not here to tell people that is wrong, just that it isn't for me. What I like about Gus is my discovery that he is a real dog, in every sense of the term. Boston Terriers can breed, unlike some small dogs. They are tough, the stand up for themselves, and are not easily intimidated.

I believe small dogs must not be overprotected. Gus learned to be smart around sheep when he got run over once or twice. We don't pick him up whenever there are stairs, we want him to learn how to climb. Sometimes, Fate tries to steal his treats. That is his problem, he has to handle it.

Gus is a quick study, as smart as border collies and observant.  He misses nothing, and can not easily  be manipulated.

Small dogs have evolved into highly adaptable creatures who quickly sense what is safe and what is not. And they scream to the skies when they want help or feel in danger.

They are not working dogs in the sense of Labs and border collies, their work is interior, not exterior. They love to chew, chase balls, and be with people. They love to cuddle up on chairs, sofas and beds. (Gus is not allowed on any of those things, except sometimes bed in the morning for an hour or so.)

Because they are so small and agile, they fit easily into cars, love to ride, and thus are good candidates to come along for chores and errands. They are happy to sit in laps. Sometimes, when I nap for a few minutes in the afternoon, Gus will jump up and go to sleep in my lap or on my chest, I hardly feel him up there. It is sweet and calming for me, I like it. A border collie would never do that, at least not with me.

So their work is mostly us, their families. They stay close, pay close attention, watch over us, and are always available to us. Gus sleeps at my feet when I write in the morning, he sleeps in Maria's studio in the afternoon when she is making her art. In between, he teases and plays with Fate.

He is especially close to Maria, but he is everybody's dog – me, Maria, friends, the other dogs, the donkeys, and soon, the sheep.

His kingdom is our universe, the farm. That is his work.

I am very happy with the small dog experience so far. It is not, of course, for everyone.

The biggest thing I  have observed is the number of times in a day that Gus makes me and Maria laugh. He has a great deal of personality, and is expressive and playful. Today, I tried to count the number of times he made me or Maria laugh out loud.

I lost track just after lunch.  Up to that point, we laughed about 25 times in between us. That is a big deal, and I think that is the thing that really separates many small dogs like Gus from many larger and "more serious" dogs. They make us laugh, and that is not a small thing.

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