Recently I did a little dog-sitting while some friends went out of town for the weekend. Since the dogs know me fairly well and they live close by on the next pier since (I happen to live on a boat in a marina), I thought taking care of them would be rather easy. Uh-huh. I might be able to explain my actual experience in just one word: Schnauzers.
The two dogs have very different personalities. Max, a.k.a. Max-amillion, is aptly named because he has more energy than any living creature ought to. His other defining characteristic gave rise to his only other nickname, Attention Slut. If a human is in his presence, Max will be petted and rubbed and scratched. He’s also very curious, always closely watching what you’re doing as if he’s supervising. His owner has told me how the dog will watch him for hours working on a motorcycle engine, looking at all the parts and occasionally making eye contact to telepathically ask, “Is this one of those new McCallister connectors I’ve read about?” If and when he finally gets bored with watching, before he wanders off he’ll give one last look at the partial assembly of engine parts, give a quick nuzzle to his pet old man – the equivalent of a pat on the back – and then project the thought, like a senior surgeon, “Okay, Dude, you seem to have it under control. Go ahead and ‘close it up’.”
Bugs, a.k.a. Bugaboo, a.k.a. Bugzilla, is pretty much the opposite. Older than Max, he doesn’t move around nearly as much. In fact, he hardly moves at all. But just show him the leash and he rockets to the boat’s toerail near the finger pier. He doesn’t expect to go for a walk; no, in his mind he’s about to go hunting. Guess what he loves to hunt? Bugs. Yep, Bugs hunts bugs. Exactly what kind we don’t know, but that little fuzzy face finds food-like items in any small patch of grass. Just like another Schnauzer I used to know, I find myself calling him “Goat-Dog” and “Chupacabra.”
Okay, so every couple of hours I’d walk these two, but they weren’t so much walks as they were drags: Max would drag me by one arm – like a little tug steadily towing a much bigger ship – and I would drag Bugs. This is when I discovered that although Bugs has the reputation for being laid-back and lazy, what he is, in truth, is stubborn. You know that cliché about looking up a word in the dictionary and finding a picture of the person you’re talking about? BUGS is the character who STARTED all of that with the word “stubborn”!
From patch of shade to patch of shade we’d go, Max dragging us both, my arms being the only stretch-able part of the chain. Max was always exploring, moving in a wide arc, just like a boat swinging on an anchor rode. And little ol’ bugs just loved, loved, lovvved to play the anchor. He’d plant his little feet, lock his little legs, and stiffen his little body, and just he didn’t care that his body harness was getting pulled tight over his head. I swear I saw that with the little living tractor Max straining on one end of the leash and Bugs planting his feet like that at the other end, the body harness was slowly lifting Bug’s back feet off the ground, tipping him forward. Well, even if we didn’t cover a lot of ground together, at least the little buggers got plenty of isometric exercise!
Once, stubborn Bugs was looking up into my eyes, watching me, as he slowly tucked his right forward paw, slowly rolled over his shoulder on to his back, and then, upside-down but still looking at me in the eye, did just ONE twitch to scratch his back in the grass. ONE twitch, still looking at me. In dog body language, I believe that means, “You’re not my mama; you’re not my daddy. You want to go somewhere? Drag my furry ass!”
Over the whole weekend, I couldn’t get that dog more than 50 yards from his home. I left him on the boat, once, so I could give Max a good walk. He eagerly walked off the marina, down the road, and over the hill, excitedly checking pee-mail everywhere along the way. When we returned, Bugs watched us come aboard, but he moved only his eyes: he didn’t even lift his head!
Saturday night I slept on their boat, just to keep the canines company. Their boat is big enough to have an actual bed instead of just bunks, so I spread my summer-weight sleeping bag there. I waited, though, until Max was “safely” asleep on the midships settee. I quietly went aft, silently disrobed, and without a sound crawled onto the bed. Before I could lay my head down, Max was there, nuzzling under my hand. “Pet me! Pet me! Pet me in your sleep!”
Bugs joined us, too. He went right up to the head of the bead and plopped himself on a regular-size pillow, near my head. Sometime during the night I woke to the sound of panting in my ear. I was about to push him away, but then I drowsily thought, hey, it’s been awhile since I’ve heard any panting in bed, so what the hell, this was close enough. Eh, I’ll take it!
Overall, my time with the dogs went well, almost without incident. Just before “the boys” and I were going to drive to pick up their parents, while I was in the shower, lazy, laid-back, snoozy-bloodhound-in-a-Schnauzer’s-body BUGS jumped off the boat and trotted down the dock. Neither dog ever gets off the boat without permission, even when they’re excited by other dogs on the pier or ducks in the water. Bugs probably didn’t want to go anywhere in particular: he just wanted to let me know who was in charge. (“You’re not my mama; you’re not my daddy. You are not the boss of me.”) A half-dozen marina people who knew him followed him and caught up to him in the parking lot. A young girl who didn’t know Bugs was there, petting him, and, as I approached, shoeless on the gravel, she asked, “Does anybody know who’s he is?”
I said, “He’s mine! Well, sort of – I’m watching him.”
Nearby, Jane said, “Well, NOT VERY WELL!”
Okay, Bugs. You did a fine job of making me look irresponsible and making sure half the marina knew about it. Okay, Bugs. You da’ boss.
These two are fine examples of the Schnauzer breed. Whatever a Schnauzer’s individual personality might be, there’s a lot of it!
2014, Mik Hetu, author of Napism.Info (for people who take their naps “religiously”)