I have been fortunate enough to have shared my life with many dogs over 70 years. All of these have been either strays who just wandered in off the street in one fashion or another, or shelter adoptions.
The closest I ever had to an actual “breed” was Malcolm, adopted from a shelter as a “terrier mix”. When Brenda had his DNA done, after numerous inquires about his type, it turned out that he was a Schnoodle, with only two breeds in his lineage, schnauzer and poodle. He was an astounding dog, calm and serious and with an intelligence that made one question just how much difference there was between our species. He was my “office dog” for the last several years of my law practice. I recall having depositions or mediations in the conference room and seeing people in succession placing their hands under the table as Malc made his way around underneath to get petted by each.
When Malcolm passed on, (too soon, from cancer) we were devastated and could not face the thought of another dog for a while. Then, a few months later, we visited our local shelter, “just to look around”, and found the terrified furry mess that was to be Simon, our next dog.
Simon was about six years old, removed by the dog warden and a sheriff from an abusive home, and scared to death of people, particularly men. Though terrified, he wanted, needed, human contact. He was malnourished, about 50% underweight and missing a few teeth. We were told they may have been kicked out by his previous owners, who had described him to the dog warden, in an attempt to excuse their inexcusable abuse, as a “horrible little dog, untrainable, and unfriendly”. The warden, who has seen a lot of dogs, did not believe this little creature could be “horrible” and she was right. She could see a personality, a strength of will combined with an eagerness to please that shone through all of the overlay of abuse and neglect.
From his first day at our home Simon has been a perfect house dog, never failing to let us know when he needs to go out. I think no one had paid enough attention to him before to notice and finally, when a dog’s gotta go, he’s gotta go. His terror abated somewhat as Brenda held him in her lap most of the time for the first weeks we had him, and he finally realized that my approaches were only to pet or feed, not to hurt him.
We didn’t know what sort of dog he was, though we thought there was some poodle in the mix, from looking at his eyes and his kinky twisted fur.
After we adopted him (as if we really had any choice in the matter, seeing those frightened eyes), we had him groomed to remove the mats and tangles and, lo and behold, he appeared to be a poodle. Brenda got another DNA kit and when the results came back, we found we were in possession of (or the other way around) a pure-bred Miniature Poodle, 100% single breed lineage back many generations.
I guess that without knowing it, I had allowed some of the general cultural idea of small poodles as “foo foo” dogs, of “purse pets”, to creep into my impressions of the breed. I did not know that they could be so utterly affectionate and, above all, so funny.
Simon has turned out to be a natural born comedian, one who keeps Brenda and me laughing at him for much of every day. Admittedly, some of his humor is of the Barney Fife variety as this now 15 pound furball charges out into the yard, chest out, head up and swiveling for danger, growling under his breath and scratching up wads of grass as he lets everyone know, including the 80 pound German Shepard on the hill behind us, that this patch is his. Simon rushes to the exact right place to pee, then trots back into the house, nose held high, mission accomplished. We are safe until his next foray. He is confident in his ability to defend the yard, but always looks behind to make sure I’m still close enough to have his back. In the house, he sits on the “throne ” (a window seat in the bay window in the dining room, overlooking our driveway and the street) grumbling at the temerity of cats, birds and, especially, big trucks, who dare to make use of his territory for their business. The men who come once a week to steal our garbage, which we carelessly left out at the curb, offend him greatly and it is only his vigorous barking and growling from the window that forces them to abandon our container, get into their truck and flee. I’ve never had a dog with his range of vocalizations. He can bark, yip, gargle, howl, grumble low in his chest, and modulate his voice so that it sounds very much like an attempt at speech. I ponder what gradations in perceived threat call for each sound. He seems very specific and is quite frustrated at times that we cannot discern the differences. He’s trying to tell us exactly what that potential intruder might do to us, but for his protection, and all we do is laugh.
Poodles often are listed on “Smartest Breeds” compilations as second, just below Border Collies. I think it is a different kind of intelligence, less driven to work, and more focused on manipulation of the human into doing the poodle’s bidding. I had a dog years ago that was part Border Collie and her desire to have a job and do it as I wanted, was amazing. But she was not happy if she didn’t have something to do and instructions to follow. Simon is quite content to lay on a lap, sit on the Throne or repose in one of his many dog-beds strewn about the house, and await his staff coming to meet his needs for petting and treats. For a dog that was scared of people, he has adapted quickly to having servants. When he needs/wants to go outside, he comes to the nearest human and performs a spinning dance to let us know his intentions. Lazy that may seem, but he watches everything and knows our behavior patterns better than we do, able to tell what we’re going to do next at every turn. Whatever he wants, he knows it clearly and makes it his mission to see that we obey. And we do. We’ve “trained” him to the extent that he comes when called and stops when he’s told to, so that he doesn’t get into danger. We had to use another word than “No, because that word seemed to terrify him. We suspect that it was shouted at him indiscriminately followed by punishment for anything that would be normal behavior for a dog. (We tried giving him toys, but he reacted as if they were live grenades, backing away afraid. We assume that he probably was beaten for chewing things as a pup,) Beyond that level of training, it is he who has manipulated us and we are willing subjects. It is so rewarding to see the happy look in his eye, his joyful demeanor, that we gladly give in. We cut his treats into tiny pieces, so that he doesn’t get fat and restrict edible rewards to reasonable levels to keep his boyish physique, but make sure that most of his day is him getting what he wants from us. And that joy in his eyes is what we want from him, so it works out well.
Simon shares our bed, though it took a while for him to get used to being allowed. At first he looked terrified if I came into the bedroom while he was up there, expecting I suppose to be thrown off. However he soon became comfortable with his place at the end, or sometimes between us, while the three of us sleep as a pack.
For a while, following some surgery on a troublesome foot, I was unable to go up and down stairs. Prior to that our usual morning routine involved me getting up much earlier than Brenda, with Simon then moving up into my spot in the bed. When he wanted out, an hour or so later, he would jump off and come downstairs for me to let him out, and then I would take him back upstairs to snuggle in with her until she woke up. Our bed is too tall for him to jump up on by himself. For the time I was out of commission, the routine had to be altered.
Then the doc said I could weight bear again on a limited basis and I started walking around the house a bit. The next morning Simon came down, as usual, but this time he went back upstairs. I knew he couldn’t get on the bed by himself and sure enough, a few minutes later he came back down. He sat facing me in the kitchen, stared at me for a minute or so, then gave one low “woof” and looked toward the steps. It seems that he knew I was mobile enough now to take him back to bed, if I really wanted to make the effort. And he insisted that I do.
He’s getting older now, and slowing down a bit. His forays up into the field are shorter and the running in crazy circles doesn’t last as long. He sleeps a lot more during the day, but hey so do I. His life for these past few years has been about as idyllic as a dog’s can get and we feel that he deserves it. The human race, in our opinion, had failed him and we, as its representatives, owed it to him to make it up. Someone once wrote, “Humans give dogs the time we can spare, the food we can spare, the love we can spare, and in return, dogs give us everything they have”. (Seems like dogs needed a better agent.). We share our lives, them and us, and we humans are much the better for it. At least I know it works that way at our house.