February 7, 2023

Waldo as a puppy.


A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature.  You can’t get it by breeding for it, and you can’t buy it with money.  It just happens along.

-E B White


The low winter sun casts long shadows across the tarmac, even though it’s one in the afternoon.  The air has an icy bite to it as we start out on our daily trek.  Fortunately, there is only a light breeze and I’m comfortable in my down parka and gloves.  Even though the temps are in the high twenties, there are quite a few people and dogs that we pass, or pass us, as we saunter and prance along (I saunter, Waldo prances as best he can).  There are even people on roller blades and bicycles out here.  Waldo seems to prefer these temperatures, compared to those of the summer, and he’s out front, gaily sniffing and moving sticks around.  We’ve been out here more than a thousand times in the past four years and yet, for both of us, there are new things to experience each time we walk.

Four years – it doesn’t seem that long.  I remember searching online for border collie puppies when I found Waldo.  He was such a little thing, just six weeks old, not yet old enough to leave Mom.  But I saw his picture, fell in love, and called to secure his purchase.  The breeder agreed to keep him for a few months, until I was nearer to retiring, although I did drive the seven hours it took to go visit with him once.  He was quite skittish and it took a lot of reassurance just to get him to walk on a leash.  How far we’ve come…

I did not get into this thing blindly.  I was intrigued with getting a border collie because of their reputed intelligence and relative ease of training.  I’ve had other dogs in the past and I thought that if I got a more intelligent dog, I might be able to bond with him more closely.  In some ways, that proved to be true; in others, not so much.  I really had no interest in getting a dog who did a lot of cute “tricks,” but I did want to be able to train him enough so that he would be safe, with direction, living amongst us humans and all of our dangerous appurtenances.

I knew, from my research, that Waldo would need a lot of activity.  One of the reasons I got him was that I needed a dog I had to walk so I would be forced to get my fat butt off my chair and get adequate exercise myself.  “Border collies do best when they have a job,” I was told.  Perhaps, but not every border collie born will end up being a sheep dog and I reasoned there had to be a way to arrange to get an adequate level of activity in the city.  I also knew Waldo and I would be suffering from an additional handicap – we would be living in a third-floor apartment.  Border collies are usually not good apartment dogs, they just need too much activity.  But, because I was going to retire, I figured I’d have the time to take him out often and that could be worked around.

In the end, I made many adjustments and Waldo made a lot of compromises. We worked out a routine where we walk at least six miles on the rail-trail, almost daily, and another one and a half miles, at least, around the apartment complex.  There have been times when we walk as much as sixteen miles on a single trek.  We came to this schedule through trial and error – discovering for ourselves what each of us could tolerate.  Dog trainers we worked with said that six miles a day was quite adequate for exercise, but Waldo would also need to engage his brain.  So, I got a twenty-six-foot-long training leash, allowing him to have enough room to trot along at will, wander off-trail a bit, to explore and sniff, and search out his universe on his own under his own direction.  This allows him to engage his brain, as well as his brawn, while we’re out walking.

We also play a number of games together.  Waldo is particularly partial to keep-away, tug-of-war and toss-the-stick.  He even, at times, likes to chase after a red laser pointer dot.  Fetch was something he was never much interested in.  At first, he’d play a little, then he would turn the game into keep-away and if I made him drop what he had, ball or stick, he would ignore it if I threw it.  He’d lay down and give me a “This is stupid.  You go get it,” look.  I am also sensitive to when he wants to go outside for a walk and indulge him when he asks.  I can easily do this because I’m almost always home with him.  I did have the foresight to put a dog-door in the slider on the balcony (a floor-to-ceiling insert the slider closes on, with a dog-door in the bottom) so he can be outside, on his own, when he wants and that helps.

I think I can accurately say, it is possible to have a well-adjusted, healthy, happy border collie live in an apartment in a city.  But I don’t think it would be wise to try if you had to go to work most days, for hours at a time, or weren’t willing to physically exert yourself quite a bit.  All in all, Waldo and I have worked things out pretty well.  I look up ahead and watch as Waldo trots along, sniffing at something I can’t see on the ground.  His tail is wagging, his ears are up and alert and he’s definitely engaged.

We are both quite happy.


Waldo now.

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