Monday, February 21, 2005


The Elsie girl has figured out how to open the back door using its brass lever-action handle (you know, the one designed for humans to use). She's the first of the five Labradors we've owned to do so (we currently have three, of which she is the youngest).

It's not that our other Labs haven't demonstrated intelligence; intelligence is characteristic of the Labrador breed. Intelligence plus temperament is why so many Labs are chosen to serve as guide dogs or aids dogs or in other such roles. Our Labs have consistently proven their intelligences in ways suited to their personalities.

But Elsie, by far, is the most intelligent. She's a fast and eager learner. She's intuitive. And if she wants something, she'll figure out a way to get it. That's how she learned to open the back door.

When I'm working in my home office (I'm a writer), I often let Baxter and Elsie outside to romp in our fenced-in back yard (Ridge prefers to doze by the woodstove). I'd much rather allow the two youngsters to play safely outside than to be confined to their crates, which is where they have to be, when inside, when I can't supervise them.

One afternoon two or three weeks ago, I was so engrossed in my writing that I didn't hear the I-want-to-come-in scratch at the door. When they received no reply, easy-going Baxter just moseyed over to a sunny spot on the deck to lie down. Not Elsie. She wanted to come in!

So she scratched. And scratched. And scratched. And during one of her down-strokes, her paw clipped the brass door handle, and it moved! Ah ha! She tried swiping it again. It moved again. She was on to something.

Persistent gal that she is, she continued until the door popped open. And in she came, muddy, un-wiped paws and all.

Her first clumsy experimentation with opening the door morphed into a smooth, deliberate if-I-push-the-lever-with-this-paw-while-I-press-the-door-with-my-other-paw-the-door-will-open action. She's fluid now. When she wants to come in, she opens the door just like she was meant to do so.

That presents a dilemma. I'd like to reward Elsie's intelligence by letting her continue to open the door at will. It's fine when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. It is not fine, however, when the back yard turns into a swamp. I need to be at the door, towels in hand, ready to wipe muddy paws before they track on our carpets and furniture.

When Elsie opens the door herself, there's no telling where I'll be (bathroom, office, laundry room, kitchen, upstairs,--anywhere but at the back door). And who knows what she'll bring in with her (remember, this is the dog whose love language is gifts and who regularly deposits her finds at the back door).

Hmmmm. Reward her intelligence or protect my possessions? It's a toss-up. They (my possessions) are just things after all. And I don't want to quash Elsie's budding brilliance.

On the other hand, who knows what kind of trouble she and Baxter can get into if they come in unsupervised.

Maybe I'll just have to learn to lock the door now-and-then.

'Til next time.

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