April 9, 2019

I turn my back to Waldo for just a few seconds. When I turn back around, he has gotten up on my recliner and is sitting, looking at me with a fur-face full of anticipation, awaiting a response (I could be projecting a bit – how much can you accurately read into hair?). I spend quite a bit of time in that chair, trying to recover from the old-man aches and pains of walking for three hours. Seeing no reaction (I’m mostly amused), he curls up and lies down as if testing to see just how far he can go. I squeeze in next to him and try to get some cuddle-time – petting his head, rubbing his shoulders just where he likes it most and talking to him in low soft tones. This doesn’t last long – he has way too much puppy energy to just chill. I swear he’s thinking, So, what’s the big deal with this spot to sit? It’s no better than anyplace else and not nearly as good as outside where you can watch rabbits. He’s back on the floor and brings me a pull-toy. He wants to play, not snuggle.

I’ve owned several dogs – always enjoyed having them around. I’ve had Australian shepherds, an Old English sheep dog, a collie, German shepherds and mutts. When I got divorced and the kids grew up and left to start homes of their own, I stopped having dogs. Work hours were too often and too long and I would have had to leave the dog home alone way too much. When it came time to retire, I anticipated that it might not be all that comfortable, jumping from the ER, a boiling cauldron filled with a witch’s brew of malaise (key in here a background refrain of, “Double, double, toil and trouble…”) to retirement, a sensory deprivation chamber that filters out all external stimuli (key in the gong of a Tibetan singing-bowl slowly fading off into absolute silence). Without something to fill the void, I could foresee myself sleeping way too much, not getting out of a way-too-comfortable easy-chair and slowly rotting from the inside. Not only did I want to have a dog again, I thought the right dog could fill in the relative emptiness created by leaving a life defined by a demanding career. Waldo does this so admirably.

Training a dog is really a misnomer. Any interaction requires at least two entities. In the case of a dog and a human, both are involved in any training that happens. Supposedly, the human being is the more intelligent, can learn more and do it easier than the dog (exception – really stubborn people). When it’s done right, both do this dance of behavior-adjustment, trying to facilitate a happier shared life. I am constantly watching and testing Waldo, trying to figure out what he needs, what he reacts to and how to get him to respond to me in situations where his well-being is at risk so I can keep him safe. I am, admittedly, still in the beginning stages, but it keeps me busy and fills in the holes left by being unemployed. Later, once we have the choreography mostly worked out, I’m sure Waldo will continue to fill my life with companionship because we will have a deepened mutual understanding and the communication that allows. At this point, Waldo, well, he’s just being a puppy, although he is exploring the boundaries and trying to figure out what behavior is permitted and what will get him what he wants and needs. Being in the recliner is okay, but it doesn’t get him much entertainment or excitement.

After a bit, he drops the toy we’ve been trying to tear asunder and lunges toward the front door, leaping at it with paws extended, making enough noise so he’s sure I noticed and know he’s serious. I sigh, move my age-stiffened carcass from the chair and put on my fur (my parka, the human equivalent to dog hair) and boots. It’s warmer outside, but still cold enough to require some protection from the elements. The warmer temperatures melted a lot of the snow, making the ground swampy and muddy in places. Sigh, when we get back, I’m going to need to dry off the dog (I keep a roll of paper towels near the door), and clean up the floor. But, right now, the band is tuning up and the next dance is about to start. Waldo’s getting me trained to take him out and, once we get there, I’ll continue to work on him to follow my lead.

For both of us, it’s time to walk.

(the one most familiar to me)

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