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Changing Expectations

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Dear Doggers,


When I tour for a dog book I bring a dog or two so readers can have someone interesting to talk to and later in the hotel I will too. Being "literary dog" is no easy gig.Days of fast travel, odd tasting water, truncated pack, a zillion strangers, cameras in one's face, slippery floors,inadequate exercise and the enterprises' basic unintelligibility. Where's the sheep, the grass,the woods, my pals?


Sheepdogs can and do turn down the job. When Silk 2 took her first look at a couple hundred people in the auditorium she climbed nto the speaker's podium and as I babbled about sheepdogs, of Silk my readers saw only the very tip of her tail.


The LD must have an endless tolerance for human fools and toddlers. He/she must convince each that, as many have reported, "Dogs like me. They know I like them, I guess." And, since I am pontificating, the LD's by her lonesome without instructions.


The LD must be amiable and it doesn't hurt to be wise.


Mr & Mrs Dog is scheduled for next spring and June died. Luke has two bad heart valves and Fly is, er, odd. No, she hasn't nipped a toddler, yet . . .


Which left Peg. We took her as a pup to socialize her. Favor for a friend. Shoulda known better. If anyone touched her she showed her belly and peed. She was terrified of sheep, humans, guard dogs and much of life. Naturally, Anne loved her and when she was less frightened and Anne's sister lost her dog I pressed hard as I could to rehome Peg.


And, as is invariably the case I lost.


She became Anne's dog. She'd come when called and didn't have any awful habits and I was busy training other dogs so I didn't pay attention to Peg. When she was four, Anne and I planned to go out to the Dakotas which would mean taking three dogs and leaving Peg in a boarding kennel. Anne prevailed. When I put a collar on Peg and took her to the vet for the shots she'd need in the big world the vet tech said, "This is the first time I've seen you with a dog on a leash."


Oh dear; thousands of miles with an untrained dog. That'd be fun.


If you need a quickie sit on a Border Collie, corner it, loom over it until it goes off its feet, issue the command, offer praise. Peg learned "sit" in fifteen minutes, rehearsed every other day for a couple weeks. "Heel" isn't useful moving four dogs through the Sioux Falls Comfort Inn parking lot to the prairie but "Get behind" is. When the trainee's at your heels with the pack, give the command and block her from forging ahead. That took Peg two days. No sheepdog likes this constraining command so its best to practice it now and again, walking them "behind" for a couple hundred yards.

Well, Peg learned it and the other "untrained" travel commands and excepting the greedy motels that charged "per dog pet fees" the three week roadtrip was no more difficult with four than three.


This spring Peg started rounding up 150 sheep, but quit when I offered suggestions or when I put 4 docile ewes in a small ring. Okay.


But she became more determined to work the big flock at bigger distances so last week I put her back in the small ring and this time she worked fine.


No, she'll never make a trial dog. But she really likes people, is reliable with dopes, drunks and children . . .and I need a literary dog.


Fly - who is standing heat is entered in the Cascade Farm trial in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Good sheep, 4 hundred yard straightforward course and a cool clear river behind the field where sheepdog and I can take a dip after our run.


First stop was Martha's Vineyard to visit Geraldine and Tony Brooks, hospitable, mildly doggy writer friends. I'd need a helper later in the trip so I brought our farmhand Brandon, Fly and Peg. That first day the dogs traveled from 5 am to 10pm crammed into the little space behind the Ranger's seats. I let them out to pee three times and watered them twice. On the ferry I brought Peg into the passenger cabin. She didn't like the vibration and hated the ship's horn but she visited with everyone who paused to pet her.


Next morning, five am, I let the dogs out. Fly found a skunk which missed Peg.


Geraldine suggested we have coffee at Rose's which I assumed was a little coffee shop where I could tie Peg outside until we came out with our cardboard cups. We went down to the harbor and walked along the beach in front of the big summer houses. Peg toured the tunes, visited with a couple beach families, waded in and tasted. AWFUL WATER. We came to a dock where I thought we'd turn around but Geraldine urged me onward onto a lovely lawn with comfortable lawn gfurniture scattered here and there. Rose, as it turned out, was Rose Styron, Bill Styron's widow, poet, Harvard Professor and head of Amnesty International's American branch. She welcomed Geraldine, me and Peg onto her proch and insisted we have breakfast. She'd just returned from hosting a gathering for Aung San Suu Kyi before her Nobel Prize. Rose said, "She was so surprised so many people cared."


We drank coffee, talked books and politics and Peg disappeared into the house. Mrs Styron's housekeeper brought us breakfast. Peg came out with her and vanished around the side of the house. After she'd been gone for ten minutes I called her quietly and she came and lay down beside me. It was a fine morning on a blue harbor.


That evening we had a picnic on a popular beach. Lots of running kids, surfers, dogs and Peg was beside herself. I leashed her so I could stop correcting her.


Six am back on the ferry and rush hour traffic around Boston. I'm bringing both dogs to the trial tomorrow. Fly in Purdah, Peg pursuing her LD Phd.


Donald McCaig

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