Monday, September 27, 2010

Dog Walking and the Möbius Strip

The walk ends, technically speaking, once we reach the mailbox. For the past hour I've picked my way along a narrow ravine trail in the Oakland hills, three and a half miles through redwood, oak, and bay trees, poison oak peeking through here and there. The dog, on the other hand, has covered about three times that, racing from the trail bed to the creek trickling at the bottom of the ravine, hurtling back upwards past the path into the underbrush above it and scaring the squirrels, birds, snake and deer. He chases sticks, dirt clods, pine cones, and the shadows of butterflies with equal vigor. The goal with all of this effort is  to ease him down a notch or two from Spaz Alert Level 5 Crimson.

Not so fast.
Who needs a backscratcher?

First there is the struggle at the top of the stairs while I attempt to slip his collar off him so that he can run into the yard. Usually in his mouth he’s carrying something he picked up along the way – a saliva-coated pinecone, an apple that rolled into the road from a neighbor’s tree, a couple of green acorns. If they protrude from his mouth, slipping off the chain collar becomes like one of those metal magic puzzles, where you have to move the individual pieces in just the right way to get the loop off the sticks or the triangle off the ring. Even after approximately a thousand walks, it’s still a challenge.

Once freed from the tyranny of the collar, the dog bolts into the yard to start the self-administered backrub; he’s a shorthaired hunting dog and, just like his people, suffers from dry skin. He hurls himself onto his back on the lawn and convulses around like he’s a Holy Roller. A few hearty sneezes and one full body wiggle later, he meets me on the front porch where I wait with the towel.

If you had told me when we adopted this dog three years ago that I would be rubbing him down like a Thai masseuse every day, I’d have glibly laughed you off. Now I know exactly where the dirt is hiding on the undercarriage and I can either deal with it here on the front porch or watch it get tracked through the rooms of the house all week. There’s no pride in being a dog owner; if a job requires you to pick up poop and carry it around in bags, there’s not a lot you can refuse to do in the name of protecting your delicate sensibilities.

The dog is clean and now the portion of the program called “I’m Home! I’m Really Home!” begins. This is the requisite ten minute period in which the dog skids through the house, banking into walls and sinking black claws into hardwood veneer like grappling hooks, as he races through the house to see if anything has changed. This routine is identical whether he has been gone one hour or two weeks, and from it we can conclude that our dog and Dorothy Gale share some common beliefs.

A long stop at the water bowl follows; when the dog looks up and long strands of saliva reach nearly to the floor, he’s finally ready to slow down. The saliva leaves water puddles throughout the kitchen as he wanders around next to me, trying to predict exactly where I’m planning to stand next and then getting there first.

“Go to bed, dog!” I say, exasperated. “Aren’t you tired yet?”

Not even hardly. From within one of the children’s bedrooms he must claim a stuffed animal, and then bring it straight to me so I can scold him. He is either too dumb to go hide with it in a corner somewhere and chew it up in peace, or a very smart masochist who enjoys being punished. I prefer not to ponder.

Finally the dog goes to his bed in my office where he begins to turn. The exact number of circuits appears to involves an algorithm using prime numbers, pi, and the date on the Gregorian calendar, but it is never fewer than six. He finally collapses, groans, and begins to whistle-snore.

He's begun gathering his strength to do it all again tomorrow.


  1. Ah...the self administered back rub!!! My boxer loves that - and you haven't lived until you've seen a Great Dane rolling on their back.

  2. Hi Ann! I would guess that a post-Dane-backscratch lawn might require re-sodding?

  3. Great post Nancy! My personal favorite dog routine is the post bath, oh no! Im clean! where they run around the house and rub against the walls, floor, and furniture until they're acceptably dirty again. Ugh.

  4. Hi Jenny! Probably has something to do with their heightened sense of smell and how embarrassed they'll be if their friends catch them smelling odiously clean...

  5. A lovely juxtaposition of descriptive perfection and dry wit...

  6. why thank yew T-fan. Heads up for tomorrow's post, you may recognize yourself as the friend who isn't quite as hypocritical as me...


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