Saturday, November 26, 2005

Always Ready Yes; But Always Able?

One of the things I love about Labs is their eagerness. They're always ready to play or work or train or do whatever we ask them to do.

It doesn't matter what we have in mind.

All we have to do is say their names, and they're there (reminiscent of James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" or of the biblical prophet Samuel who heard his name called and immediately responded with "Here I am").

Unlike so many human types, our canine friends faithfully respond to our calls.

They show up.
With enthusiasm.
Eager to please.
Willing to do their best.

How many humans do the same when called upon to do something?

Okay, I'll admit there are exceptions (like when they're reluctant to stay behind when one of the other dogs is going out with Don to train). But overall our Labs are eager to please and will do what we ask.

That is, if they have the ability.

One of the parenting books I read when my human children were young talked about the difference between "willful definance" and "childish irresponsibility." A child who stomps her foot and says "no, I won't clean my room and you can't make me" is being willfully defiant. That's entirely different than the child who forgets to put her dirty clothes in the laundry hamper (she's not willful, just forgetful) or who falls asleep working on her room because she's so tired (again, not willful, just physically unable at that time).

Parents have to decide if their children's lack of compliance is a matter of attitude or inability.

My brother-in-law is a Director of Human Resources for an information techonology firm, and when dealing with employees who aren't doing what they've been asked to do, he has to decide if the issue is a matter of "will" (an "I won't" attitude) or "skill" (an "I can't" issue).

Bosses have to decide if their workers' lack of compliance is will or skill.

As parents or bosses, how we handle lack of compliance depends on the reason behind it.

I think the same goes with dogs. Is their non-compliance, when it occurs, attitude or inability, will or skill?

Our Labs are always ready to please us (it's characteristic of the breed), so when they don't comply we have to ask why?

Sometimes it's immaturity.
Sometimes it's puppy-ish irresponsibility.
Sometime it's ignorance (they truly didn't know any better).
Sometimes it's a need for more development or training.

And, yes, sometimes it's will.

Labs can be stubborn when they want to be. But usually there's a reason behind it. Sometimes the reason is clear (as in Elsie's current "I don't want to wear this stupid diaper" or "I don't want to be crated when Ridge is out," both of which she has to do while in heat, as she is again right now). Sometimes it's less so.

But good parents (of dogs or kids) take the time to find out why.

Our "kids" (whether two- or four-legged) will love us all the more for it. And, to boot, they'll respond better next time.

Here's to understanding our "kids," whoever they may be, and treating them as they have need.

'Til next time,

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Good Things - Part 1

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I thought today would be a good day to post photos of the "good" things our canine kids do, the things for which we're thankful.

And we truly are grateful for the richness our Labs add to our lives.

So here's to Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge, who give so much and ask so little in return!

They do everything with enthusiasm.

They take time for back scratches and belly rubs.

They illustrate flexibility. :o)

They express affection.

They pay attention.

They keep our laps (and hearts) warm.

They (well Ridge and Baxter, anyway) know what belongs to them and are content with what they have.

They greet us (and everyone) with gusto, making us feel loved when we return home.

They're generous with hugs.

And with kisses, too. :o)

They know how to befriend those who are different than they.

And they keep us smiling (note peanut butter on tongue.)

Yes, indeed, we're glad to share life with our canine kids. And we learn much from their ways.

I'm sure we'll learn more in the years to come, but for now we're thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

'Til next time,

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Impish Things They Do - Part I

Gotta love 'em. :o)

Here are a few impish things our beloved Labs do (or used to do as pups). Can you relate?

Baxter used to stand on the dishwasher door (some 80 pounds ago!). He gave this up long ago (good thing, or we'd have no dishwasher door by now!).

The Boos also used to stand on the coffee table. He doesn't do this anymore either (another good thing!). :o)

Instead, he gets his table-standing fixes by hanging out on the picnic table--all year 'round. Some things never change. I think he just likes looking in the window. :o)

Ridge still can't resist yummy things left out on the table or kitchen counters. At least he gives us motivation to keep things cleaned up. :o)

Elsie is still a chewer, although she's getting better about what she chews. She's not the shoe thief she used to be.

Although, if she's bored with Kongs and bones and ropes and balls and the countless dental toys we have laying around, she'll steal Ridge's bed to chew on. As a matter of fact, just last week she shredded her own bed. Just for fun. Aaaaaargh.

Oh, and lest I forget, here are a few more impish, but unphotographed, behaviors:
  • drooling (we've got three majorly-Pavlovian canines here)
  • tracking in mud (big paws = big mess)
  • digging (enough said)
  • completely shredding any stuffed toy or any toy that makes noise (no more Nelliphant, Mr. Hedgehog, Mr. Mallard, or Mr. Monkey)
  • resting their noses on the table right next to our dinner plates
  • snitching food off the counter
We have plenty more imp photos; these are just a few to start. To be fair, however, tomorrow I'll post photos documenting the good things Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge do, too.

And then later I'll post more imp shots (can't resist).

Hey, they're Labs. There will always be more than enough photos of them being imps and angels. :o)

It's just the nature of the breed we love.

'Til next time,

Monday, November 21, 2005

Is Bigger Better?

The things we wonder about sometimes...

Okay. I'll confess. I've sometimes wondered about male dogs lifting their legs to pee. Oh, yes, I know their style has something to do with marking and claiming territory, but why do some dogs (like Ridge, for example, right) seem to painfully contort their bodies for higher aim, while others barely get their legs off the ground? And some male dogs, like Baxter, relieve themselves with a distinctly feminine squat (is there such a thing?) as if they don't care. What's with that?

The Secret Lives of Dogs: The Real Reasons Behind 52 Mysterious Canine Behaviors by Jana Murhpy answered my questions.

What I read in this book affirms that I was correct in assuming that canine male urinary habits result in territoial markings. Ahhhh, but what I didn't know is that height (i.e., how high the marking is) apparently means something, too. Especially to other dogs.

It seems that male dogs "aim high" to make themselves appear bigger. :o)

LOL. How ironic that one of my recent LabTails posts was about human-like traits in canines (anyone remember the Saturday Night Live skit about men, "manhood" size, and restroom paper towels?). Like our canine friends, we think bigger is better, too. Or we think others think so.

But for humans, "bigger" isn't limited to physical size/traits. And it's definately not limited to males.

In American culture, men and women alike want what's "bigger": We want bigger names, bigger senses of importance, bigger reputations, bigger paychecks, bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger respect, bigger (or better) toys and technology, bigger food helpings, bigger spheres of influence, and bigger portions of the prosperity pie.

But at what cost?

When Ridge twists his spine to appear bigger, his only consequence is a bit of splatter and an occasional loss of balance. :o)

Our pursuit of "bigger-ness," on the other hand, can cost us our financial security (think of our massive consumer debt), our integrity (think of Enron), our time (think of 80-hour work weeks), our friendliness with neighbors (think of empty front porches), our health (think of stress-related heart attacks, strokes, and ulcers), our loved ones (think of family lives sacrificed on the altar of career), and ultimately, perhaps, our peace of mind (think of later-in-life regret).

Maybe bigger isn't really better afterall (despite what advertisers proclaim). Maybe it's just an illusion.

My good friend, Kathy, owns a Maltese named Bentley. And at six pounds, Bentley holds every bit of value to his family as our 260 pounds of combined Labs do for us.

Size isn't everything.

I suspect, at least in the human arena, it's the things we can't measure that count most.

'Til next time,

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Baxter and Elsie are buds.
They romp.
They tease.
They poke.
They prod.
They wrassle.
They flaunt their stuff.
They draw out each other's impishness.

Baxter and Elsie enjoy being together. They have fun. They're the kind of buds who know how to have a good time and can make the other laugh and enjoy life.

Their "friendship" is very different than, say, the one Elsie has with Ridge.

That's because Ridge is all business. He's serious-minded. He's not silly or impish like Baxter. He's not a tease. He's not a flaunter, either. He enjoys being with Elsie, but theirs is a "quieter" friendship--one built on companionship, trust, and the comfort of another's presence.

And here we go again: another way our canines teach us.

Don't people need different kinds of friends? Don't we need those with whom we can giggle and tease and just have fun? And don't we also need those with whom we can enjoy quiet companionship?

Rarely do we find both in the same person. We tend to have the "fun" friends we play with and the other friends with whom we do tasks or from whom we seek counsel.

I've been blessed to have found both in one man: my husband. And I've been blessed to have found both in two other people: my twin sister, and my friend Kathy. But everyone else, for the most part, falls into distinct categories: the "play" friends" with giggle factor and the "serious" friends with whom I work, serve, or minister.

With the "play" friends, I can be goofy and silly (I don't have many of these). With the "serious" friends, I work and get something done.

When I'm with the few who've been both to me (Don, Jeanie, and Kath), I can be all of who I am without reservation. The others only get glimpses.

And I suppose that's okay.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for the many good things in my life, among the most important of which are my friendships. Like Elsie, I have friends who allow me to be me and love me all the same.

That, indeed, is a rare gift in this day and age.

I feel blessed. And I'm grateful.

'Til next time,

Monday, November 14, 2005

Different Dogs, Different Displays of Affection

All three "kids" are terribly fond of us; they "love" us as only canines can. But each one shows his/her affection differently. Not only do they differ in style from dog to dog, but as individual dogs they display affection differently depending on the object of their affections.

Take Elsie, for example. With me, she leans on my legs, sits against me or on my lap, or curls up on my feet. She just wants to be close. Here I am (right) watching TV, with the Elsie girl snuggled close on my lap doing her classic "lean." Elsie likes to touch, wherever we are, but she rarely falls asleep with me.

With Don, however, Elsie sleeps like Rip Van Winkle. She does the all-out snooze. Sometimes she slumbers next to him (as in photo on left). Other times she sleeps on top of him (as in photo below right).

But in any case, she sleeps best against Don.

It's another people-like trait I guess: dogs expressing affection differently. And just as they express affection differently, they seem to need different kinds of affection from us.

Ridge needs kisses, pats, and the security of knowing we're nearby, but he doesn't need to touch. He's just happy to know we're there, and once he's sure of that, he can rest undisturbed anywhere in the same room.

Baxter needs play time from us. And he seems to need to tease us. He also needs a lap now and then upon which to rest that giant head of his. Sometimes he needs reassurance that we love him as much as we do the other two (he's our most jealous). But once he's gotten his touch fix (a pat on the head, a brief snooze with his head in our laps, etc.), he's glad to hang out on his own. Nearby, but not touching.

Elsie needs physical contact. She sleeps best against us. While the other two can stretch out elsewhere (even preferring to sleep undisturbed on the other side of the room), Elsie seems to require a human connection to rest well.

People are like that; we have different ways of giving affection and receiving affection: some like to be touched; some need words of assurance; some need only another's presence to know they're loved. And some just need time playing or teasing or just having fun.

The trick is knowing who needs what.

I know what my canine kids need. And I'm pretty sure I know what kind of affection each of those in my immediate family need (hubby and kidlets). But I'm not sure I've taken the time to figure that out with other loved ones.

I suppose I should. We'd all be better off for it. And I suppose we'd have fewer regrets. :o)

I guess the place to start is realizing we're different; we all need different kinds of connection. What works for one may not work for another. And that's okay (it's how we're made).

We can just keep trying until we figure it out.

Here's to discovering how to love others well according to their needs.

'Til next time,

Friday, November 11, 2005

Human Canines, Part I

I know, it's too easy to anthropomorphize (give human traits to) dogs. But I can't help it. Sometimes their expressions, habits, and mannerisms just seem so...well...human.

Take the cross-legged gentleman pose (only Baxter and Ridge do this; not Elsie):

The smile (check out Ridge's happy face):

The "I'm bored" look (or maybe "Me? Move to my crate? You've got to be kidding!"):

The pillow hug (and just what could Baxter be doing here...hmmmm?):

The "This is heaven" groan of contentment (only Ridge and Elsie do this, but especially Ridge, and especially when he's scratching his back):

The suggle of contentment (safe in a loved-one's arms):

The nuzzle of concern (taken when Ridge came home from the dentist this summer still rebounding from anesthesia; Elsie and Baxter seemed worried):

The need to be close (this was taken a year ago when Elsie was a puppy, but they still do this):

And my favorite: The "c'est whaaaaat?" expression:

Yup, they sure do act like humans sometimes. Look for more "human" images of our "kids" in the coming weeks. ;o)

'Til next time,


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Look at us sporting our new fluorescent collars! Hopefully hunters won't mistake us for deer now (see "Field Safety in Autumn" entry on Nov. 4th). Posted by Picasa

The Pied Piper

[Sidenote: Blogger is giving me fits. For the last three days the Blogger Dashboard (and associated pages) has been incredibly slow. And I've been unable (despite repeated attempts) to insert photos. Hence, no posts for the last three days. I tried (I really did). Hopefully today will be easier.]

If how well you're followed is a measure of love, then I'm absolutely adored! The "kids" follow me everywhere. All three. Everywhere.

  • If I go outside; all three just have to join me (so much for quietly reading on the deck)

  • If I go back inside, Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge want to come, too (see photo, right)

  • If I walk from the family room to the kitchen (a whopping fifteen feet), they accompany me.
  • If I do the dishes, they plunk down right behind me--in perfect position to trip me if I step backward.
  • If I go out to get the mail; all three wait at the gate until my return (we live on a busy, dangerous highway, so the kids can't go to get the mail with me). Then they greet me with veritable plethora of vertical kisses after my unbearable one-minute absence.
  • If I sit in the recliner or on the loveseat, Elsie vies for my lap, Baxter for my knees, and Ridge for my feet. I stay warm in winter. ;o)
  • They even stand outside the bathroom door while I'm doing my business (if only they knew). ;o)
  • And if I get a treat out for them...look out!

Today, since I'm really trying to have a productive workday, I pulled flavor-filled bones out to occupy the kids while I work (three--one for each of course; everything has to be equal!). All I have to do is rattle the pet store bag, and all three start hopping and barking and scrambling to see who can get theirs first.

Now, mind you, they've been taught their manners: they must sit quietly and wait for me to say their individual names accompanied by "okay" before they can take their treats (whatever treats I give them). And they have to take their treats gently from my hand (no grabbing allowed). They faithfully follow this routine.

But the journey from the laundry room (where we keep the treats) to the kitchen (where I keep the scissors to open the treat wrappers with) must look like a lunatic version of the pied piper: 260 lbs. of canines kangaroo hopping, lamb leaping, panting, drooling, barking, and vying for first place--all until I turn around, treats in hand, and say, "sit."

Despite their boisterousness, I manage to make the journey unharmed (or untripped or unscratched or unscathed). I wonder if they "know" they could hurt me if they barreled into me the way barrel into each other.

I sure wish I knew what went on in their heads. ;o)

Oh, and in case you're wondering, they don't just follow me; they follow Don even more! Especially when he's outside working or grilling (see left and below).

So, anyway, I feel loved today. LOL, maybe a little too loved.

But that's a good thing. Isn't it?

'Til next time,


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Full Steam Ahead

Boy, when Labs run, they run!

Here's their action captured on my digital camera (notice all three are air born!):

Now, I've known this truth for quite some time, but today their intensity surprised me.

While tossing a "kong" with them ealier, their intensity was so great, their gallops so fast and blind to everything else, I thought they'd hurt each other, especially if they barrelled into each other or collided while retrieving the rubber dummy. All three shot after that kong as if they'd been catapulted from a cannon (nooooooo.... they're not competative...not in the least...hah!). All three took off in an air-born sprint. Each wanted to get to the toy first. Wow.

Even Baxter (our lumbering low-key kinda guy) sported a full-out sprint. There must be something in the air.

Now Baxter will run full-bore when he alone is retrieving (as in when he's training one-on-one with Don), but when all three retrieve together he normally hangs back and lets the other two do the work (smart boy!). Notice Elsie (left, in this picture, in front of fence) and Ridge (above and to the right of Baxter) both searching out a retrieving toy while Baxter lounges on the grass.

That's my boy!

Not today, though.

Hmmmmm. I wonder what's gotten into him. I guess even dogs have atypical days: times when normally lethargic personalities get it into gear or times when normally high-energy dogs need a low-key day.

Just like humans.

I'm usually a low-key (read "low-energy") gal, but, like the "kids" I can kick into high-energy productivity when I have to (or when I find the motiviation).

I used to wish I were a higher energy gal. I sometimes wanted to sail through life like Baxter does when he's retrieving alone: focused, energetic, highly motivated, and productive.

But then I realized I'd miss something. I'd miss the scenery along the way. I'd miss the little things: the small graces of life we see only when we take time to stop, rest, and be still.

I guess it's okay to be low-energy. It's fine to stop and lounge once and a while. The work still gets done, and life is fuller for the pause.

Here's to life's little pauses!

'Til next time,

Friday, November 04, 2005

Field Safety in Autumn

It's autumn here in Pennsylvania. It's also hunting season. As a matter of fact, dear hubby went out during muzzle-loader season and brought home two doe (properly tagged and butchered, of course).

The hunters are plentiful, and yes, they're mercifully thinning the abundant PA deer population so most of the herd doesn't starve this winter or get hit by automobiles. I still wrestle with "Bambi's mother" syndrome, though, even though I'm thankful for the venison. (That's another discussion for another day!)

I daily hear gunshots here during hunting season. And I worry about my canine kids. Especially Ridge, whose gorgeous coat color makes him a prime target for some mistaken hunter somewhere.

As a child, I remember my older brother having a dog named "Ajax"--a German Shepherd/collie mix of some kind who also had a deer-colored coat. Ajax went missing one fall, and my brother finally found him out in field not far from our rural home. He'd been shot through the neck. Poor Ajax. Poor Herm (my brother, who was a teenager at the time). I suspect now that some hunter shot Ajax by mistake, thinking he was a deer.

As I watched the "kids" play in the backyard this afternoon I wondered if the same could happen to them. Check out the photo I took today while they were romping:

If you look closely, this photo contains images of Elsie AND Ridge. Ridge is directly behind Elsie, a little to the right, but is comoflauged sufficiently to make him difficult to see. A hunter could mistake him for a deer.

Thankfully, we have a fenced yard (the brush in this photo grows up against the fence line). But if Ridge were to "escape" our fenced yard, he would be in danger of being shot.

So, for this season, we'll probably resort to his wearing a fluorescent scarf, safety vest, bell collar, or reflective collar until the snow falls, just so hunters don't shoot him by mistake.

For those of you interested in protecting your canines, check out this article at It has some great tips about keeping pets safe during hunting season.

Happy Autumn, and stay safe!

'Til next time,

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Our Little Lady - NOT!

Oh, the Elsie Squirt. She's a gal after my own heart: definately NOT the epitome of canine femininity. :o)

She sits and snuggles unlike any Lab I've known (spread eagle most of the time):

She slumps when she sits (how un-ladylike!):

She's eats who-knows-what (the grossest of things), but she's always soft-mouthed with us:

She wrassles with the best of them:

Oh, but she pounces and pins and likes being top dog, too:

She's smart (can open the back door at will):

She's fiesty, fun, impish, loving, faithful, and affectionate all wrapped up into one:

And I wouldn't trade her for another female Lab on the planet.

You know, it's not so bad to be tomboyish and impish and tender. Elsie illustrates that truth well for me; it's really not the contradiction in terms I thought it was.

For years I wrestled with self-esteem issues because I didn't think I was "feminine" enough (my twin sister got that gene). Much like Elsie, I was (and am) a tomboy: I rarely wore make-up, rarely did anything to my hair except pull it back into a ponytail, never had manicured nails, and dressed in jeans or sweats most of the time. I definately do NOT represent the epitome of human feminity or style. I'm just frumpy, tomboyish me.

But Elsie teaches me that that's okay. I love Elsie for who she is: imp, snuggler, tomboy, tender-hearted soul. And, truth be told, she's much like me. I suppose the people who love me really do love me for who I am, too--the whole package, just as we love Elsie's whole package.

For years (decades) my husband tried to tell me this, but I only believed him in part, thinking that I still needed to be more "feminine" or more polished. Instead of feeling defective because I'm not (and never will be) what the world defines as the "feminine" ideal, I should learn to celebrate who God made me to be, just as I celebrate who Elsie is.

The world is a far richer place because of the Elsies who grace us with their presence. :o)

If only we could learn to accept that truth about Elsie's human equivalents.

'Til next time,