Monday, February 13, 2012

The Philosophy of Dog

The other day a flash of insight came upon me regarding my dog.
It ran something like this....

Sally is a Great Pyrenees Guard dog.
She does not really know this, she just knows she exists.
But she cannot escape her heredity.
Genetically, she is programmed to behave in certain ways that are, to a degree, unique to her breed.
As a guard dog, she needs something/someone to guard.
It is in her unconscious makeup to find/define the limits of her territory and to supervise activity within that area.
Although I am her companion, and she recognizes me as such, I am also that which she feels compelled to guard/protect.
I am her herd – in the absence of a real heard of animals.

This understanding displays itself mostly in our walks around the neighborhood.
Lately, I have let Sally decide which of two basic routes we are to go.
She has settled into a path and pattern on both routes and she visits the same spots.
She seldom, if ever, tries to deviate from the path she has established.

She seems to alternate each path from day to day; which I find interesting.
She remembers which path she took the previous walk.

And to my surprise, she has rather quickly learned the “wait” command at each street crossing.
Lately, she has occasionally stopped at a street and sat down for a moment waiting for me to give the command “okay” to proceed.
Otherwise, she will stop at a street when I say “wait”.
Sometimes she is less focused on my commands and timing (how long to “wait”) but she is doing very well given the vague circumstances for the command (crossing a street).

She keeps the distance to about a mile out and back, and the time to about 45 minutes to an hour.
Last Friday was an exception.
It was the first walk in the morning we had done in four days and she was ready to get out of the yard.
When we finished her southern loop she turned and started on her northern loop.
She was well behaved and although we did some running, she was not agitated or “frantic” in her explorations.
In fact, she was quite well behaved.

When she sees or hears another dog or people, she usually stops and sniffs and looks.
I stop also and take the tension off the leash and let her satisfy her curiosity.
It only takes a few seconds (10-20?) and then she moves on.
Sometimes she stops again and re-examines the point of interest again.
Occasionally, she will stop three or four times before moving on.
Sometimes she wants to go in for a closer sniff, if it is people I let her get closer if they are on or near the sidewalk.
If not, I hold her back.
The same goes for other animals – sometimes I let her go for a closer sniff, sometimes not.
I do not allow her to invade other people's property without their permission.

Sometimes we run.
It is usually in short spurts of 100 feet or so, then she must stop and sniff something for a few seconds.
Then off we go again.
She is the one who initiates the runs, usually.
But I don't mind letting her run.
After all, this is HER walk, and one of the purposes is to allow HER to get some exercise, especially that which she cannot get within the confines of her yard.
And being a runner, how could I deny the benefits of this activity to someone?
Or some doggy?
So we run.

And when she is done, she is ready to return to her yard.
I do not have to coax her to go home when she has run her loops.

Saturday, in spite of the biting cold and wind, I loaded Sally into my car and we drove to the nearby park where we have walked before.
We owned the park.
No one was there but us.

As is usual, we started out on the nice, paved walking/running path but Sally soon wanted to examine the perimeter of the area.
So we went off the paved path and she sniffed the fence line around the west half of the park.
My only correctional input was that she stay out of the mud in one area.
Which she complied with.
Although I did provide some limits on how far she could go near the main highway and large city river, she pretty much had her way.
And when she was done – 30 minutes later – she was ready to get into the car.

In fact, when we went walking on Sunday afternoon after church, she sought to get into the car.
I do not know what she had in mind as to a destination, but it was clear that she wanted to go for a ride.
I dissuaded her and she went into the back yard without further protest.

My point?
Simply that she enjoys the walks with me and also it allows her to be a guard dog to me.
She needs to have a job to do.
She needs to have THIS job to do.
She needs to fulfill the inbred function of defending or watching for possible threats to me (and herself).


Saturday was my first run in two weeks.
My work schedule has cut into my exercise time such that I have neither walked nor worked out in two weeks. (I did walk my dog almost every evening)
Anyway, there was some concern about my strength for the full 4 mile jaunt.

Also, it was 25 degrees with a lovely 20 MPH wind that had the windchill factor in the single digits.
This allowed me to try my new terrorist mask.
It is a long, knit watch cap that completely covered my head and neck, with holes for eyes and mouth.
It proved to be ideal for the situation.

In mile two I took off my wool mittens and held them in my hands.
Just holding them was enough insulation to keep my hands warm in the 8 degree breeze.
I also had to unzip my wind layer and the knit layer underneath as I was generating more heat than my top would allow to escape when closed.
All in all, I was quite comfortable given the nasty environment in the pre-dawn morning.

I took my time and just pounded along trying to be careful so that I did not break anything.
And, as has been the case for the last couple of runs, I found myself daydreaming about this and that as I bopped along.
There was nary a pain or whimper from joint or connector anywhere on me.
When I got back to my car, though, I was ready to stop.
I did not feel tired in the bad sense.
There was no struggle or argument with Running Central about whether to continue or not.
It was a good run.
A great run.

In two months I will turn 67 years old. (assuming I do not drop dead within those 60 days...)
I find that hard to believe sometimes.
Running has been a wonderful privilege for me and I am delighted and amazed that I am able to do it at my age.
I have been running off and on for eleven years, now.
As I have said before, if someone had told me in high school that I would be running 4 miles once a week when I was 66 years old, I would have told them they were nuts.
But here I am.
I feel very blessed.

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