I adore my dog, I really do. Probably goes without saying, if you’ve read about him here— the physical therapy, the surgeries. Two years together and we’ve covered a lot of road.
Last night, I didn’t want to brave the snow and cold to walk him, though he deserved a walk.Knowing it was not enough, I thought I could at least give him a little mental stimulation before we turned in, so I hid some treats in one of his puzzle toys and played some training games and did some physical therapy exercises with him. With that German Shepherd blood, you have to keep them mentally stimulated.
He was trying to predict my commands— if I paused, he’d lay down, expectantly, or put a paw up to shake. I was trying to stump him. I don’t know that it’s a stumper, but sometimes he’ll “give me a kiss” (lick my cheek) on command, and sometimes not. I bent down, held out my cheek and tapped it and said “give me a kiss.” I was startled to see him lean in, mouth puckered, and bump his muzzle against my cheek. That is, of course, how I kiss him, and how I reinforce the command, but he’s always just either licked my cheek or declined to play. Once I recovered from being stunned, I laughed and laughed at it— so surprising, so funny because of how unnatural it was.
This isn’t the first time he’s caught me by surprise by understanding better than I thought he did. We had rabbits in the backyard, busting through fencing to take up residence under the deck. I started running out of the house to haze them, and telling him to “get the bunny,” assuming that he didn’t really understand what I meant. Until the day I found the bunny dead in the backyard. I didn’t see him do it and I can’t prove anything, but I started to be more careful about what I say to him (I’m a softie— I wanted the bunny out of the backyard, but I wanted him to go join his cousins on the greenbelt behind the house. I learned not to blame pets for obeying instincts that serve them, like hunting, though.) I praised him and disposed of the remains.
We’ve had major construction demolition in our area, and the area population of field mice has gone up (I think) as a result— mice fleeing abandoned buildings that were being torn down and ending up in our neighborhood. We were walking one night and he went nuts in a neighbor’s front lawn. For reasons that sound mildly delusional when I tell this story (in my last neighborhood, we had a lily pond, and one night, we saw a frog near it (extremely unusual in our arid climate) and he tried to catch it. I freaked out enough that he let the frog go.) I thought it was a frog, and started freaking out. He let it go, and I watched a mouse run from his paws across the street. Though I’m not crazy about the idea of him eating anything that could be disease-infested, I’m pretty positive on the idea of his keeping the backyard his exclusive domain, and hunting is mentally stimulating, so… I let him go after the mouse into the bushes. Too little, too late, that night.
A few days later, I saw mice in the backyard, coming through the garden, one exploring our deck. I’m against mice in near proximity to the house, and I’m pretty sure they got more out of my garden than I did this year, which kind of annoys me. But I’d learned my lesson from the bunny thing and didn’t say anything to him. A day later, I saw him toying with something. I went outside. Sure enough— a confirmed kill. I praised him but took it away and gave him a treat in its place.
My cats are hunters too— my dear departed boy-cat was a great moth-killer, and my girl-cat would follow me into the crawl space of my condo on the extremely rare occasions on which I’d enter it, to jump up into the struts of the house and lay in wait for whatever else was down there (somewhat terrifyingly, somewhat comfortingly, to me.
It just goes to show you that the minute you think you know a boy, he puckers up and pecks you on the cheek. Thank heaven.