Love my dog, but…a five dollar bill, the window sill, a signed first edition, sofa cushion, two pairs of shoes, the doctor’s bill, blanket, paintbrushes, washcloths, a table leg, the phone book, a bowl of wooden fruit—each a recent victim to the teething process. It’s an odd list by most standards, but perfectly ordinary for a five month-old puppy with 24-7 machine-like teeth that will gnaw on anything to relieve the ache of baby teeth, baby gums. Amazement over her choice of objects to chew on has lessened over the weeks, and now I wouldn’t be surprised to catch my new puppy chewing on a doorknob. Knew when I brought her home that a long period of teething and chewing were part of the deal, just didn’t imagine it reaching as far as knuckles and kneecaps.
Little Miss Farina came to the Old Dixie Lane homestead sometime around mid-October. An adoption pup, she reportedly got lost and wasn’t recovered by her original owners. A four month-old labrador-retriever mix with a honey gold coat and a sweet disposition, she arrived here weighing seventeen pounds. Five weeks later that weight has almost doubled. From first sight she seemed the perfect mate for this huge expanse of fenced land amidst the oak trees and squirrels, raccoons, gopher turtles, snakes and the occasional alligator. Those creaturely neighbors aside, her biggest fascination has been with the two horses living next door, one of which is a full grown dwarf standing all of three and a half feet. Farina (named for the honey-brown cereal) spends part of each day barking at the horses across the fence, and on trips to the mailbox pulls hard on the leash as we pass the neighbor’s gate. Coming out one day to see what all the barking was about, the dwarf pony easily cowed the dog with its bold approach and cocky head tosses.
Sketches of Farina by J
A part of it all is getting used to holes in the yard, lots of holes. Seems there isn’t a time that Farina is out romping in her one-acre playground that she doesn’t dig a new hole or two. Few would mind a scatter of holes dug way at the back of the yard, and there are a number of those, but the two heavily favored digging spots that worry me are in the driveway and in places along the fence line. The second is obvious, but going in and out of a drive that looks and feels like a prairie dog village is a bumpy ride. There’s a cure in the dog psychology books and that's underway, but the holes are many and the ingredients for that cure take time to gather. A lady at the adoption center with great experience in dogs and digging told me to deposit a pile of the dog’s “business” in the hole and cover it up, that she would be put off and not dig in that spot again. So far it’s working, but new holes appear every day.
The fun and companionship of having a dog are special but it was a different economic era when I last had a dog and I’ve quickly learned that dog owners everywhere will shout in loud chorus, “It doesn’t come cheap!” I’m wondering who to apply to for child support. Go to the dog store for the smallest thing and ten minutes later leave the store fifty dollars lighter. Wondering too if the vet’s rates are competitive with those of brain surgeons. As far as food and feeding go, one lesson is clear: Dogs will eat more if the food is a cheaper, lower quality food and less if the food is rich in the nutrition they need for growth. Now I understand why some brands of kibble are $45.00 a bag—they are more filling because less of it provides the basis of good health, and the dog, or stomach at least, knows that.
The interesting part comes in realizing that without opposable thumbs and a tongue capable of shaping syllables, communication for a dog is heavily weighted toward gentle biting, licking, chewing and body language. I am convinced that facial expression is a valuable tool for dogs and more than a few times the eyes of my puppy have made clear what words would express if she were capable. How many times have I looked at Farina and clearly understood that she is trying to convey her shame, her impatience, anger, happiness, or confusion?
And with my opposable thumbs and the countless words on my tongue, it’s me who all too often helplessly chases her around the yard unable to make myself clear, grinding my teeth with impatience, angry at the dog and myself as well and altogether baffled at how a honey-colored bundle with floppy ears and too many teeth has completely captured my heart.