I have a trillion memories, most happy, a few sad, and some just confusing. Over the 40 years that I have been in dogs, I have been a very careful observer of their behavior, their relationships, and their lifestyles. Some things that they have done were confusing initially but later were clarified by other things that they did. So over the years I have learned more and more about how dogs operate! I have read books about animal behavior. And I have tried to see how the information in the books fits with what my dogs do. The premier book on animal behavior, actually dog behavior, is the Scott - Fuller book from the 1950's. Now I could give you all a list of references to do some reading but I really don't want this to be about that. So let us say that I think that the best current author on dog behavior is Stanley Coren Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He has written a bunch of books and they are all interesting, informative, and fun. After 40 years the thing that I have most learned is that dogs are smart, very smart, perhaps smarter than us. They certainly are much smarter than us in some things. So don't let the little buggers fool you into thinking that you are the superior being. That's one of the ways that they are smart! They are the superior beings! You're the one who is going out to work to support them! Don't ever forget that!
They say that an elephant never forgets. Well, guess what, dogs don't forget either. They just try to convince us that they forget so that we will help them. They are experts at leading us astray. For example, just how long does it take to get a dog to be able to remember where two birds have landed in a land double. Most dogs have to train for that for a while. Yes, there probably is some confusion initially in their minds because they are not used to seeing two birds land before they are requested to pick them up. However, it is not a memory problem. I have dogs who remember where I hid a bird, or a bumper, three days after I hid it. I had a dog, Oliver, who routinely checked places where I had hidden bumpers days earlier as soon as I let him into the yard. Try it with your dogs. Play in the yard with them, a part of the yard that they don't normally have access to. Then throw a bumper into an odd spot, behind a tree or a building, and take the dog in the house. Do your normal routine for the rest of that day and the beginning of the next day. Now take the dog out to the part of the yard where you threw that bumper. My dogs immediately check where that bumper was last seen and find it usually immediately. If they don't do that, when they spot it, you see the great look of "Aha, I remember that," on their faces. If they don't do it the first time they will after a couple of tries. So now that I've clarified my belief system on the intelligence of dogs, remember that as I tell you stories of what living with flat coats has been like.
Phineas was a dog who never took his eye off the goal. The only problem I ever had with him was that his goal and my goal weren't always the same. For example, he thought that the long sit - long down line-up in obedience was actually a singles bar. So he surveyed all the women in the ring as the exercise was being set up so that he could smooze the best one as soon as I left. He had to have planned his moves as he never smoozed a guy or even a breed that he had no interest in. On his list of wonderful women, flat coats came first, then came goldens and then yellow labs. He did love those blonds. He once by-passed a bull dog type to smooze a chocolate lab who actually did look amazingly like a flat coat. The bull dog seemed a bit hurt by his preference. Phineas' behavior on the sits and downs persisted until it was actually doubtful that he could have done much even if he had managed to pick some woman up! I never entered Phineas in obedience at a flat coat specialty as it was obvious that he would never never stay on the long sit or down, not if there were female flat coats next to or near him. Finally, when he was twelve, I was just dying to do veteran's obedience with him at a Specialty, (which is only novice level and he did have a CDX,) so I entered him at the Kentucky FCRSA Specialty. He did a great job on the individual exercises, tail wagging, chipper and cute. So we set up for the long sits and I was beginning to have my doubts. And sure enough, I hadn't even moved my second foot away from him before he was in some old lady's face, introducing himself and trying to get her phone number. The judge and stewards rapidly removed him and when I got back to the line, the judge was laughing. He said that he was excusing him from the long downs as Phineas had told him he was too "horny" to stay. What the judge didn't know was that he was the oldest dog at the Specialty that year. And the audience roared! On three occasions, Phineas actually left the ring to see women that he thought were more interesting than obedience. He left the ring at Syracuse when he was next after Lucy, the Martin's beautiful flat coat bitch, who was spayed by the way. He saw her leave as he was entering and took his first opportunity, the word "heel", to follow her. He left the ring to attempt to rape a white standard poodle who was passing by with her owner at the Crown Classic in Cleveland. He always did love white standard poodles although I don't ever remember one being on the line with him in obedience. And he left the ring in Buffalo to gawk at a bassett hound's ears. He didn't particularly like bassetts but he did love their long, sexy ears!
Actually, the funniest story about Phineas' never taking his eye off the goal took place far away from the dog show ring, in my kitchen. About 25 years ago, when my sons were all still home, one evening we all sat down to have peppered chicken for dinner. We were sitting around the table at a typical family meal with the dogs around us hoping for handouts when, all of a sudden, the fire alarm on the second floor went off. In a flash, Ethan, my youngest son, jumped up and exclaimed "Oh my God, it's on fire!" And he raced toward the front of the house and up the stairs. The other three sons and husband quickly followed. I was last in line with the dogs following me when I got to the stairs. And then I suddenly thought, "Why are we all racing into a fire?" So I decided to go back through the kitchen and eating area to put the dogs outside in case there really was a fire! As I got back into the eating area, I suddenly realized that only some dogs had come with me. Phineas was at the table, with his front feet on a chair, preparing to have peppered chicken for dinner. After all, we all left it for him! See, don't take your eye off the goal even if there is a fire because if the house burns down from a fire on the second floor, you will have plenty of time to finish the peppered chicken before you have to leave! As to the fire, Ethan had washed his hacky-sacky and left it on the bathroom heater to dry when it had begun to smolder and set the smoke detector off! Memories from the sons are at least as good as the ones from the dogs!
Phineas certainly was the source of a good laugh on many occasions. He's the dog who taught me to never trust a flat coat to not embarrass you, particularly if a bunch of people are looking. He did so many things to me in the obedience ring that in the end, all I ever wanted to know, after finishing a run with him, was if he looked like I'd trained him. If he did, then I had had a successful venture for the day. I'm sure that there are still many judges who think I'm nuts because I burst out laughing when he did something funny in the ring. Once, as we were coming down the mat doing novice obedience at Niagara Falls, I spotted a yellow tail projecting into the ring from under the ring gates which were curtains strung on poles. Just as we approached the tail, it swished right out of the ring under the curtain. And Phineas, who had apparently also spotted it, swished right out of the ring after it. Having had a moment's warning, I was fast enough to grab him by the tail and haul him back in the ring. Says the judge, "You can't do that." Says I laughing "I just did!" Of course he was disqualified on the heel free exercise. But he wasn't out smoozing the golden that the tail belonged to!
Amelia also has provided some delightful and funny moments. Amelia's big issue in life was that she knew everything. (The acorn really doesn't fall far from the oak, does it.) She just didn't want help with anything. In the field, this was a real trial as she frequently knew where the bird was! Doing blinds with Amelia was an exercise in convincing her to go the way that she was told. It wasn't that she didn't understand sign language, and she did a lovely job handling as long as she didn't think she knew where the bird was, but the moment she got the scent of a bird, or spotted a ribbon fluttering in the breeze, she went where she knew it was, even if it wasn't the right bird. And she also knew everything in the obedience ring as well. She once did a utility run and anticipated three of the five exercises. As I was leaving the ring, I thanked the judge for his time and expressed the view that I really hadn't been needed that morning as apparently Amelia knew it all. But her funniest "know it all" was when I came downstairs to find her lying in the whelping box preparing to have her fourth litter of puppies. She clearly gave me a look which said "Leave me alone, I'm busy!" "So can you weigh the puppies, Amelia, and tie those colored yarns on their necks? If you can't, I'm staying!" On her third litter, she wasn't due until Wednesday and I checked her the prior Friday afternoon before leaving for Cobo Hall for a dog show. She seemed fine, happy and energetic, and her temperature was over 99 degrees. So I left and drove to Detroit. About 8 PM I got a panicked call from my husband, He said that he had come home from work about 6 PM and Amelia had seemed fine. He fed her but she didn't eat, but that didn't concern him much as she hadn't been eating well anyhow so close to the end of the pregnancy. So he went out to dinner. And when he had returned just a few minutes earlier, she had greeted him happily at the door and taken him to the puppy box to show him the two puppies she had already delivered. "What do I do now, " asked the panicked voice. "Just sit with her and do whatever she wants you to do," was my reply. "Clearly she knows more about this than you do!" I've often thought that Amelia should have been president! After all, she knew everything!
And now Zenyatta has added to the list of funny flat coat stories. I entered Zenyatta in Open obedience for four days at the trials at the Canfield shows at the beginning of August to try to get her CDX. Although only 21 months old, Zenyatta had already qualified the individual exercises twice in Open A but had been having trouble with the long sit with handlers out of sight. She frequently went down on the sit, not because she's lazy and doesn't want to sit that long, (the most common reason dogs go down,) but because she clearly wasn't understanding something correctly. I thought I had fixed the problem but apparently not. On Thursday, the first day of the trial, I returned from being out of sight to find her down. I was definitely discouraged but recognized that she just wasn't understanding the exercise correctly so didn't say anything. So, on Thursday evening, I took her to the obedience building and sat her on a long sit. My friend Laurie Dux went with me. I left the building and Laurie periodically went up to the sitting Zenyatta and said "It's okay! She won't mind if you go down!" The look on Zenyatta's face clearly said "you aren't tricking me!" and she continued to sit. We were hoping for a chance to correct her but didn't get it. After a 5 minute sit, I returned and released her. The next day, when I returned from being out of sight on the long sit, I again found Zenyatta down. I finally got so frustrated that I lost my cool. As soon as the judge said "exercise finished", I told Zenyatta to sit (in preparation for downing her for the long down.) I then said "you are a bad girl!" just releasing my frustration! So now the judge says "are you ready?" "Ready." "Down your dogs." "Down." Zenyatta keeps sitting and looks at me clearly saying "you said I was a bad girl! I'm not going down and being bad again!" "No, Zenyatta! Down!" "Not me, I'm not being bad!" The judge says "leave your dogs." I walk away with Zenyatta still sitting. As we're leaving the ring, the judge stops me and says "why is your dog sitting?" "Because she won't go down!" When I came back, five minutes later, she was still sitting perfectly waiting for me. I told her how good she was. She never made a mistake on the sits and downs the rest of the weekend! Whatever it was she didn't understand, apparently it fixed it when I told her she "was a bad girl!" Go figure!
I have some wonderful memories of things that the dogs did that were spectacular, sometimes mostly spectacular to me because of the hard work and many attempts that went into them. Phineas got his CDX, my first dog to get a CDX, when he was 10, a most exciting moment. And he got a JH, also when he was 10, another exciting moment, although I do think his WC was even more exciting as it was my first field title. And Phineas got two Best in Shows in Canada at a time when flat coats rarely even got group placements in the USA. Phoenix got her Canadian Championship handled by my oldest son, Ian. That was a pretty special moment. And Caly got her American Championship handled by Ian as well. Phaedra got a 4 pointer at the all breed the weekend of the Canadian Specialty in Ottawa. She had ripped a cruciate ligament and had had surgery exactly 4 months earlier to the day. Everyone told me that she was finished in the show ring. See what they knew! She went on to get both an American and Canadian Championship as well as field and agility titles. Oliver was a much better behaved dog than Phineas, rarely doing anything wacko-flat coaty in the obedience ring, but he also could be entertaining, particularly in the field, where he was a disaster with a hot blind. He could smell anything anywhere! However, Oliver's forte for being a wacko was really in the agility ring. He would start out wonderfully but within about 3 obstacles, he was losing control and just wanted to run everything all at once. From that point, it was sheer luck where he went next and sometimes he just zoomed as fast as he could round and round in circles. And then there was the issue of not enough jump time. As he was nearing the end of a run, sometimes he would decide that he hadn't had enough "jump time." So he would then take off through the ring, jumping as he went, doing a big circle, until he got back to me and the take off point. Then he would finish the run in a most mannerly way. The message was clear! "Okay," Mom, "now I've had enough 'jump time'!" Oliver once expressed his distaste about running agility in hunting season by coming out of the tunnel, turning around and pissing on it! He certainly was expressive and I did get the message. Amelia's spectacular moments were getting her UDX and her PAX, two titles I'd never gotten before. She certainly was a dedicated little devil. Sydney has given me many spectacular moments with her multiple group placements and her SH. And she finished her championship the day she was 8 months old with four majors. That was truly a spectacular moment although I had little idea what I was going to do with Sydney in the months that followed when she should have been showing. And recently, Sydney gave me a great moment when she got her Grand Championship at the ripe old age of 10, and did it in style by only going to 4 weekends of shows. And Sammie's SH was the first I'd ever gotten, just a few weeks before Sydney's. And Sammie got a MACH, my and her first, possibly making me the oldest person on record to get their first MACH. And now Zenyatta has added to the list of spectacular moments when she took Winners Bitch at a supported entry at Medina, OH from the Junior Puppy Class for 5 points and finished her Championship by taking Winners Bitch and Best of Winners the first day of the Wine Country Shows for 4 points at the tender age of 11 months. She went on to get 11 points and 3 majors toward her Grand Championship that same weekend. And, more recently, she got our second MACH. And Stitch got Best of Opposite Sex at the FCRSA Specialty in Conyers, GA and Zenyatta got a Judges Award of Merit at the same show! The wins, the titles, five Hall of Fame plaques, multiple Versatility Dog and All Round Retriever awards in Canada, they were all spectacular and my memories go on and on and on!
The only really sad moments I have had with the Blacfriar dogs is when I have lost one. Tragically, I lost Phoenix at just 8 years of age to histiocytic sarcoma, Phaedra at 8 to a Schwannoma, and Oliver at 8 1/2 also to histolytic sarcoma and Sammie at almost 9 to lymphoma. Losing Phineas at 14, Amelia at almost 13, Sydney at almost 11 and Norah at 13 !/2 was sad but clearly inevitable and they had such long and wonderful lives. One of the worst moments I've had in flat coats was April 19, 2007, the day a litter of Norah's puppies was attacked and killed by a terrier at her co-owners home. It goes without saying that I was unwilling to accept this as okay, although her co-owner didn't seem particularly bothered by it, and it took me 2+ years and $7000 to get Norah back solely in my name, but that was finally accomplished in July, 2009. Norah is a wonderful girl and I can't imagine life without her! I've never considered it to be a sad moment when my dogs have bombed at trials or tests. I'd rather be there bombing than someplace else without my wonderful dogs by my side.
It's been a fantastic trip! and I've loved virtually every moment of it. Hopefully we'll all have many more years to harvest even more wonderful memories of the dogs, of the sons and their wives and girlfriends, and of the grandchildren.