A Dog’s Example

Posted March 30th, 2010

Over the past 38 years, I’ve had three Labrador retrievers. It would be an understatement to say that I’m a fan of the breed. All three dogs became members of the family, rather than household pets. As I think about Rode, Klister, and our current Lab, Rosie, some common characteristics come to mind which make the dogs so endearing.
For starters, our Labs have all demonstrated unrestrained joy when we return from an absence. It doesn’t matter if my wife, Kay, was out for a couple of hours shopping, or if I’d been away for a week working, our dog can’t contain her joy upon our return. Rosie wags her tail so energetically her entire body is in motion, her panting approaches hyperventilation, and her wrinkled muzzle resembles a smile. Our world would be a happier place if we humans all greeted each other as enthusiastically.
Another admirable trait is that Labs love to eat. Rosie has never been fussy about her food. On the contrary, if we get distracted, she’ll remind us with a nudge or a subtle moan, that it’s her mealtime, and whatever we put in her bowl, she eagerly consumes. No complaints about toast that’s burned, Brussels sprouts that are too soggy, or scrambled eggs that are too runny. Whatever’s in her dish, she gratefully scarfs down.
Next to eating, Rosie loves being outdoors. Every morning, Kay and I walk her out the driveway to retrieve the paper, just over a mile, round trip. I read somewhere that dogs have a sense of smell 70 times more sensitive than ours. Whatever the ratio, the morning walk is a feast for Rosie’s nose. She covers at least twice the distance that Kay and I walk, chasing down the scents of nocturnal animals, neighborhood pets, and visitors. Her body language is all excitement, fascination, and enjoyment. Later in the day, if we’ve been focused on indoor work, Rosie will remind us it’s time to get outside again. And she’s always right. Even if I feel frustrated leaving a task incomplete to take her for a walk, I always feel better after being in the woods. I don’t know if dogs instinctively know how to manage stress, but I suspect I’d do well to model Rosie’s behavior—no matter what’s going on, don’t skip the afternoon walk.
Complementing her devotion to exercise, Rosie is not the least bit self-conscious about napping. If nothing requires her attention, Rosie curls up and takes a snooze. Mid-morning, early afternoon, twilight, it doesn’t matter; if the opportunity arises, Rosie will catch a nap. I can remember times in the Army when we were all so tired we seemed to be able to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I swear I saw a buddy in Vietnam sleeping standing up. We’d probably all be healthier if we were able to respond to our instincts, like a dog, and take a nap when we felt tired.
Fortunately, given my background, Rosie loves winter. She’s always up for an outing, but when the first real snowfall of the winter blankets the yard, she races around with total abandon. At full tilt, she’ll drop her jaw into the powder, scooping a mouthful, just for the thrill of it. She’ll squat and roll for the simple pleasure of feeling the cold snow all over her body. When Kay and I reach for our cross-country ski boots on a winter afternoon, Rosie begins panting. We’ve learned to carefully plan our outings, since Rosie would eagerly follow us until she dropped from exhaustion.
I’d be less than forthright if I didn’t acknowledge a couple of drawbacks. Labrador puppies are notorious for chewing everything in sight. Sacrifice an old pair of sneakers and you may preserve the rugs, the drapes, the legs of all your furniture, your shoes, and most of your clothes. Another problem: Labs shed. In fact, it’s astounding that they can shed so much hair and not be totally bald. I used to think the black hairs were visible everywhere, but now I’m convinced the blond hair is more evident. And finally, as any dog lover knows, you begin planning around your dog. Can’t go to so-and-so’s for the weekend, because they’re allergic to dogs. That sort of thing.
These become minor inconveniences. Do the drawbacks outweigh the joys of having a Lab? Absolutely not. In fact, we’d probably all be a lot happier and healthier if we adopted some canine behavior.

John Morton

John Morton is a former Olympic biathlete and Nordic ski coach. He lives in Thetford Center, where he designs Nordic ski trails. You can reach him through his website, www.mortontrails.com.