June 06, 2006

Bark

training dog

When my extended family gathers at camp, the group usually includes at least four dogs. And always fairly big dogs. German shepherds, collies, labrador retrievers, or mutts that are a mix about that size. And since family members tend to get dogs from rescue groups or shelters, they are almost always dogs with issues. Since we have plenty of room at camp, the dogs usually get along okay, but meal times can be dangerous. Many a meal over the years has ended with people leaping up onto the picnic table to avoid the snarling dogs going at each other underneath the table, fighting over a piece of food that has been dropped. At some point, my Red-haired Sister instituted the policy of putting the dogs on lines during meals, and that solved the problem. Now the main fights at the picnic table are between my father and me.

When I was growing up, we always had a dog. Well, we had cats too, and a horse, and gerbils. But as I got older, I realized I was more of a cat person than a dog person, and so now I live in a household with seven cats and no dog at all. Oh, I like dogs well enough, but they are just so much responsibility. I figured I didn't need to get a dog for my kids because they can always play with the family dogs at camp.

Red-haired Sister will often ask me to go with her when she walks her dogs. This ritual of walking her dogs makes some sense where she lives, but makes no sense at all at camp, where the dogs are racing around, chasing chipmunks, leaping off the dock, and running free all day. But I've never questioned the ritual because I enjoy the walks. I usually volunteer to take Zip, a gentle old collie, and we set off along the backcountry roads.

The road we walk on is narrow and curving, crossing over high meadows and then down through the woods, with quiet bridges over cattails and creeks. Bright orange day lilies bloom along the road, and the occasional house often will have a neat garden. We pass the old farmhouse with the apple orchard where we used to sometime go to gather the drops, the apples on the ground. Many years ago, my sister was riding a bike near the orchard in the rain, and she saw a tree get struck by lightning. The tree split down the middle with a loud crack. Walking the dogs gives us an excuse to take a nice walk, away from the crowd back at camp, and have lazy conversations on summer morning.

In the late afternoon, when we've all returned tired and sunburned from swimming out at one of the islands, the dogs are usually looking for some attention. They gather around us at the picnic table, where we gather to devour cookies, fruit, cheese, and crackers. You can easily spend hours throwing sticks or balls or frisbees for the dogs to retrieve. Some of them never tire of this sort of game. My youngest sister had one dog who loved the stick game so much that it was impossible to break up kindling for the fire. I'd pick up a stick and before I could even do anything, he would have his teeth around one end of it. I gradually got into the rhythm of throwing one stick, then breaking one.

At night time, the dogs join us around the campfire, usually content to lie still and keep an eye on things. Sometimes in the dark, I've stepped on a dog by mistake. I’ll get up innocently to go get another log for the fire, and suddenly I’ll have this snarling, snapping dog yowling in pain. A few of these incidents have taught me to be more careful. And though I am not a dog person, I like the presence of the dogs at camp, these creatures who get so excited about smells, who swim in the marsh with such enthusiasm, and who run through the wood with such crazy abandon.

12 comments:

Rana said...

Most of our family's outdoor excursions have included dogs, or at least they used to before my parents got the last two. They are too silly and ill-trained to be allowed out in the wonderful world of smells, things to chase, and cactus stickers. But, yeah, I too am more a cat person; I find dogs to be like children who will never grow up -- sweet, but also an awful lot of work if you want them to be happy, healthy animals. I figure I'm saving that energy for actual children. ;)

Mona Buonanotte said...

I always thought I was a dog person, until I got one as an adult. Cats are much easier and more suited to our movable-feast lifestyle. I'd just like to borrow a dog for the nighttime, to sleep on the end of the bed and lick my face awake.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Guess the dog people should have a go at this: our labby Sheba would definitely be a snarler/fighter for territory, but has learned quickly that humans almost invariably mean snacks. She is Ms. Charm with humans.

More importantly, Sheba has grown up with our daughter Em, from Em's age of 7. Em was never alone as long as Sheba was with her, and felt safe whenever The Boo was home, too. Some of Em's life moments and passages took place in Sheba's presence. We will all grieve when Sheba's lifetime ends, but Em more than anyone, I think.

While a cat is all the others say it is, a dog acknowledges your presence, tells you you are alive and somehow important, and worthy of love.

peripateticpolarbear said...

With dogs, I prefer renting to buying, as well. But there is something slap happy fun about a being that will come when you call it, rather than my girlkitty who takes a message and gets back to me when it's convenient.

Songbird said...

I'm a relative newcomer to the dog-loving ranks. I think our big dogs would love being on a camping trip, but I fear Miss Molly would take off looking for the next family down the road, just in case they had a more interesting dinner menu.

Seeking Solace said...

As you know, I am an avid dog lover and often blog about my Boy. I am particularly fond of rescue and shelter dogs because it seems like they true appreciate having a home.

I truly think dogs remind us to not take life so seriously. A good day for my dog is a good long walk, followed by chasing a squirrel, playing with his humans, a good meal and a nap. Not a bad life!

The great thing a bout dogs is that you can make a serious social faux pas, like passing gas in public and a dog will look at you as if the say “Wow, that was totally cool>” A cat would give you a stare that could freeze hydrogen and pretend not to know you!

Leslee said...

I love it when you tell family stories!

I think you've figured out why your sister insist on the walks without realizing it.

Claire said...

We had dogs growing up and I could not WAIT until I had the space for a dog (or three) of my own. Now I have Thankless Dogs I, II, and III, only one of whom is suitable for camping. One gets car sick and one would bark all night, but Thankless Dog II is a perfect camping dog. I envy your proximity to your sisters.

Julie said...

I'm a cat person through and through. I hoped I would like dogs more if I had one of my own. Our dog (half collie, half German Shepherd) couldn't be sweeter or better behaved, but she's still sort of annoying. It's not her fault; she's just a dog. Our kitties, on the other hand, can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.

SpookyRach said...

I love your camp stories...

Sue said...

I am not sure that I would work well with a dog. Don't dogs need their owners to be authoritative and commanding?

We have two cats. I am their staff. They have me trained very well. I'm just not sure a dog would want to live in that kind of system.

colleen said...

Ha! I saw the title BARK and scrolled down thinking I would see a tree. So that worked for me.

Dogs over cats here. But maybe the birds at the bird feeder are enough for me.