13 June

The Small Dog Experience. Coming Soon To A Farm Near Us. Ours.

by Jon Katz
Gus And The Small Dog Experience

With the news that Gus’s mother Hannah is almost certainly pregnant again, it seems that my chronicling of the Small Dog Experience will soon (end of summer) get underway again. I have never had a small dog before Gus, and when I learned that small dogs now greatly outnumber larger dogs, I realized I was falling behind as a dog writer and needed to catch up.

Beyond that, I have also been noticing that the Big Men In Trucks, an enduring fixture of rural life, which can be, for men, the world’s greatest toy store, all ride around with small dogs, and love them so much they often cry just talking about them.

When my big tough logger Greg Burch introduced me to J.D., his ancient Pug, I thought he would just melt with love and pride. What is it about these dogs that draws so much love and feeling, I have long wondered. John, our burly chimney sweep, cries every time he mentions his English Bull Dog, who died four years ago. The Snells, burly men in giant trucks who clean our septic system once a year, ride around with four corgis and hug  each one after every job.

I didn’t get all that far with Gus, who only lived for about ten months. He did get me hooked, on small dogs in general and Boston Terriers in particular.

These dogs are an anomaly, and also an  illusion. They appear to be small, but in fact, are quite large. I came to call Gus the Little King, there was nothing in the house that was not his, nothing that  was not his business, no dog toy he would not claim, no animal – from border collie to donkey to sheep.

The online worrying brigades fussed at me constantly for letting Gus out into the pasture with the border collies, and the sheep and the donkeys. Maria and I  resolved that Gus would be a dog like any other dog, and a farm dog at that, he would not be a cosseted toy protected from our lives. Donkeys and sheep are in our lives, along with feisty chickens and territorial barn cats.

If Gus was to live with us, he would have to make his own way. He would not be a furbaby.

This was tested shortly when he ran under Lulu’s legs, and she twitched a bit and kicked him, startling him into a yelp. He turned and barked at her, indignant, and the next day, he sat and rode on her back. He loved to sit on the donkeys and was even riding around on them when he got sick and had to stay in the house.

We we warned in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t go outside without sweaters, and even booties, so I bought sets of each and used a sweater once. Gus did not mind the cold at all, and when it got bitter, and  shivered he would run to the back door and ask to be let in. He was fond of the space in front of the wood stove, which he claimed as his own.

He also claimed Lenore’s sofa in my study as his own. And the sofa in the living room as his own. And a rocking chair with a soft cushion. And he wasn’t allowed on the furniture.

Small dogs have no idea that they are small dogs, in their mind’s eye they are all Tyrannosauruses, they rule the earth and submit to no living thing. Small dogs like Boston Terriers pretend to be cute, but are not. It is a  trick to keep them safe, I think and intimidate their enemies.

Gus thought nothing of rushing up to the very dominant Fate dog and pulling a treat right out of her mouth. She was shocked for about two seconds, and then came after him but he was already hiding under an ottoman, sticking his head out to taunt and ridicule her. She would look at me in bewilderment and give up.

They are among the world’s greatest ride-a-long dogs, they fit in small spaces and navigate with precision. They are eager to go anywhere anytime. But I think the best thing about small dogs is that they make me laugh, Maria too. Gus had us laughing all the time, he wore his ridiculousness like a mask, and he was so pompous sometimes you just had to laugh.

Our barn cat Flo hissed and growled at Gus, but he didn’t seem to notice. He barked and flirted with her until she gave up and accepted his presence.

I think my all time best memory of Gus was when he was hanging out with the border collies in the pasture and the sheep spooked and started running towards him. They all towered over him, and I know he had been studying Red and Fate for days, trying to figure out what the hell was going on out there, and how he could do what the big dogs were doing.

I was alarmed when I saw the sheep running at him for the first time,  i wasn’t close. I yelled “Gus, get out of there!” But Gus was not alarmed. He sat down, looked imperious and just started barking at the sheep. The sheep, who have seen it all in their lives on the farm, had not seen anything like this.

They screeched to a halt,  astonished at his impertinence and presumption. They had never seen anything like it, and didn’t know what to make of it. They could not imagine what he was. But he did stop them.

Then, satisfied, he barked twice for good measure, turned and ran behind me. Small dogs are smart.

I don’t know if we’re getting a he or a she, but I don’t expect another Gus. That would be foolish and  unkind. This new dog will be their own dog, and I will be glad to get on with the Small Dog Experience. Thanks for coming along.


  1. Small dogs have the best of both worlds. They can cuddle on your lap when a shepherd or rotti couldn’t, and they can also raise holy hell outside. And they know it, too. All dogs are master manipulators but small ones also capitalize on the “cuteness” factor. Best of all, they are really good at training their humans.

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