City Dog, Country Dog

Reader Contribution by Steve Daut

I was out with my dog, Chili, the other day, taking one of our treks around the pond and I decided to experiment with her a little bit. She’s an Australian Shepherd mix, so needs a lot of running to keep her from bouncing off the ceiling. Well, the solution from the time she was just a fuzzball was to train her in the fine art of Frisbee.

Sue claims the flying disk thing is really not as much for her as it is for me. The argument goes like this: when I was at the University of Iowa, I was never more envious of my fellow classmates than when I spent summer days trying to study on the campus while more socially oriented students took the summers off and played Frisbee with their dogs. So when I found Chili, I was simply trying to capture the youth I never allowed myself to have in the first place.

All I know is that once a friend of mine dropped that little ball of fuzz into my arms and warned me that the critter was going to the pound unless I kept her, I never had a choice.

For the first seven years of her life, Chili lived in the city. After some obedience training, she was able to heel off leash, until one day the neighbor woman complained that I was violating some City ordinance. Maybe she was right, but I’m guessing that was the moment I decided we had to move out to the country. I couldn’t be the one to break the pure dog spirit in my furry friend by insisting that she take to the leash for the rest of her life. The time she ended up herding the elementary school kids who were waiting for the bus in our front yard really clinched the deal. It was time to get out of town.

When we bought the country house, we had a lot of renovations to do, so a lot of days after work I would swing by to pick up the dog in the city then take her out to the new place while I worked on something. She came to view these as strange outings, when I largely ignored her while she got to explore a big new area. I still remember the moment, a couple of days after we finally made the move, when Chili realized that this was her new home. All of a sudden she went into puppy mode, running at full bore back and forth across the property for the pure joy of running, giving herself over completely to her new domain. She became a country dog in that burst of energy, free to roam and explore, with nary a leash in sight.

So, fast forward to the Frisbee and the pond. I periodically test her intelligence with various games, and the one I played this day was to throw the disk across the end of the pond so she would have to run around the curvature of the pond to catch it. This had the added benefit of wearing her out quicker since she needed to run a lot farther to catch the thing. On the final throw, she forgot herself and launched straight out into the pond, sinking up to her haunches in the muck bottom. She came out pure black.

It took three towels before I could even bring her inside to toss her in the bath tub, but she got the first bath she’s had in years. We’re still cleaning spots off the wall where she shook herself dry after the bath. Fortunately, Sue tolerates this kind of stuff with good humor. And Chili? I didn’t take her long to get over the shock of the bath. Before the afternoon was out, she was trolling the compost pile for some great-smelling table scraps.

They say that if you find your place, it makes all the difference in your life, and I guess it must be true with dogs as well. Our dog Chili has definitely become like pure essence of dog since she found her place in the country.

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