Lessons learned from a streak and a shadow

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In our house, we have a doggie dynamic duo. Charlie, who is a rescued mixed breed of beagle and Italian greyhound, is part sighthound and part scent hound. Cooper (the Corgi) is a herding dog. As far as life philosophies go, they couldn’t be more different.

Charlie’s personal mantra is this: “Dash out any open door and run wherever thy nose doth lead you. When the squirrel scampers up a tree, stand at the base of the tree and loudly bellow up at it to express your frustration. The neighbors love that.”

Cooper, on the other hand, takes his job as C.F.H. (Chief Family Herder) extremely seriously. His mantra is this: “I shall stay with my human sheep. The sheep are helpless without me. I shall bark instructions at these ‘sheeple’ in a bossy way, but I shall never leave them.”

Charlie and Cooper collage 2019

Yesterday, I saw a perfect illustration of their two personalities at work. I made the dumb mistake of leaving the front door slightly open while I hung an Easter wreath on it. Little did I know that while I was wreath-hanging, Charlie was stealthily creeping up to the open door.

Before I could even get the word “No!” out of my mouth, he had already darted between my legs, out the door and was streaking across the yard in hot pursuit of squirrels and freedom. Cooper went after him, loudly barking commands to cease running, but Charlie is far too fast for a Corgi whose legs are roughly the length of a Vienna sausage.

I called Cooper’s name, and he came trotting back to me as if to say “Don’t worry, lady. I won’t leave you. I know you can’t make it without me.”

While Charlie sprinted all over the neighborhood tracking smells and terrorizing squirrels, Cooper dutifully followed me around the house like my short shadow. He does this every single day. He tags along to the mailbox, to the kitchen, the bathroom – anywhere and everywhere I go. When I’m working at my desk, he sleeps one step away from my feet, and he jumps up to follow me even when I insist I’m coming right back.

One of the things I’ve learned about herding dogs is that they desperately need a routine and a “job.” A herding dog without a job equals a whiny, frustrated companion. So, we taught Cooper to fetch toys and catch tennis balls when he was a puppy, and it quickly became his daily job. He tells me it’s time for work by bringing me one of his favorite toys and dropping it at my feet as if to say “Let’s do this. You know the drill.”

When he dropped a toy at my feet yesterday, I quickly agreed to the game. After all, Charlie was outside somewhere pursuing his life goals, so Cooper deserved some time to chase his dreams, too. I tossed the toy across the living room and he quickly brought it back and turned it into a game of keep-away followed by a session of tug-of-war.

After a few more throws, I changed up the game by tossing the toy down the long foyer. Cooper chased after it but stopped short when he realized the toy had landed only a few feet away from a large, cardboard box that had been delivered by UPS the day before. box-34357_640 (2)Since Corgis are devoted to routine and order, they notice immediately when something is not the same as usual. And that huge, hulking box was not usual.

Even though he desperately wanted to pursue his passion and fetch the toy, he didn’t dare tip-toe by that box, lest he wake a monster sleeping inside it. He turned back toward me and whined, as if to say, “I’d go get it, but I don’t know what might happen with that box, so I’ll sit here and wait.”

That’s when I realized that dogs are so much like me and most other humans. Sometimes we’re impulsive and reckless, like a beagle lured away by a fleeting scent. And sometimes fear of the unknown is enough to stop us cold, even when we want to pursue, conquer and finish a job. If we could combine those two traits and use each one when we needed it most? Now that would be doggone perfect.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.

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