This week I have the pleasure of introducing Forrest, a lab-mix rescue dog who chose Ivan Junge in Colorado. I was especially interested in this because not only are Sampson and Forrest related in the way that their people are cousins, but Labradors and Newfoundlands share similar bloodlines. That said, I think their history is more geographic than genetic as Sampson and the four previous Newfs in my life show zero aptitude for fetching. The Newfy MO is more 'you throw a ball, I run after it unless or until a) I get tired b) it seems too far away c) there is a low hanging pine branch in closer proximity than the ball that might need to be peed on or d) I get it and then lie down where I found this ball and crunch/gnaw it to death with my massive, underused jaws.
Please enjoy Ivan's essay on Forrest!
Selecting My Dog
When I decided to get a dog I did a lot of research. I think I watched every episode of The Dog Whisperer. Some people watch the show for its entertainment value. I watched it for research. Cesar can control almost any dog without ever having met them and leave the dog feeling peaceful and at home.
For a long time I had known about the universal dog-body-language sign for play – kneel down on the ground with your arms outstretched (kind of like the yoga downward dog but kneeling) and make eye contact with the dog… then get ready to run, zig and zag. This is kind of like fishing – if you present it the right way the animal cannot resist. When appropriate, it’s helpful to let a new dog know what kind of relationship you want to have with them and put them at ease.
There are many other messages to send to a dog, especially if you are the owner. Caesar is the master of distinguishing these messages. If you watch the show, which I highly recommend, listen to what he says. And most importantly, listen to the part where he says, “I rehabilitate dogs… I train people.” What I hear in that is it’s always the responsibility of the owner to train himself or herself for the sake of the dog. Otherwise the dog doesn’t know what’s appropriate.
I had a woman’s dog steal our tennis ball once and the she sighed and said, “Well, it’s going to be a long time before you see that ball again. He never brings them back.” Any version of the dog doing something that the owner doesn’t want it to do and the owner accepting it frustrates me. Cesar would calmly explain that the owner has allowed the dog to think it’s OK, or a game not to bring the ball back. Solution: more people training. When your dog knows who is in charge and what the rules are, it will listen.
But I digress. I knew that I wanted a Labrador-mix for my dog. The fact that labs are bred to work for people (retrieving) means that they have a desire to listen and do what the owner wants them to do. This is a very helpful breeding trait. Retrieving is also a game that is fun for me, as the human, to play. Double bonus.
Sometimes I watch other dogs slowly wading in the water up to their bellies (like our old family dog) and then backing out of the water because they were scared. I get the pleasure of throwing a ball into the water and watching my dog enjoy his life mission – swim, locate, and retrieve. That’s a lot of fun for me and for Forrest.
The cool thing about having a work/play motivated dog is that they are easy to control. Some dogs are bred to herd or attack other dogs. You can teach them not to do that but you will have your work cut out for you. I can hold up a tennis ball and I have total attention and focus. That’s really nice.
I also wanted to avoid the common health problems that often come along with a purebred dog. Mutts tend to have less of these issues. That worked out well for him.
I totally understand the desire to pick a less-active breed. If a dog is bred to work then that’s what they will want to do. Just remember that this less-active dog might not be very fun at the park, unless you want it to just sit on your blanket with you.
I wanted a companion for my outdoor activities. I wanted a dog to run with me while I mountain biked. I wanted a buddy for hiking, backpacking, camping, playing catch, etc. I called all the local shelters and told them to notify me of any puppy, lab-mix arrivals.
When I met with the final litter of puppies at the shelter I noticed that the other ones were into getting their bellies scratched. My little guy decided to chase the others around the pen and repeatedly untie the shoelaces of those who participated in the belly scratching. I knew what I was getting myself into and I admired his playfulness.
It’s worked out well for the two of us. I never seem to play quite enough for his liking but I far prefer that to the alternative. He’s a motivator for me to get outside and have some fun. That’s a good friend in my book.
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