Saturday, March 24, 2012


Sadie sure knows how to work the system for maximum attention—when SHE wants it. She is also good at taking herself out of the mix when she doesn’t want attention anymore, going and lying down on her bed on the back porch, or standing pointedly at the door there if it’s closed.

She is an Australian Shepherd, not a Lab, and so tends to be, or would like to be thought, a dainty eater. Working under the assumption that she, the delicate, pretty, sensitive thing needs protection from the ravening competition, wolfing down its food and then turning to her and breathing hot stinky breath down her neck as they hover over her food, K&A tend to feed her in the kitchen, away from the other dogs.

This seems to work well enough when it’s just Sadie and Tessa, because Tessa can be fed on the porch or outside, and in five seconds when she’s done, she can come back in, but there are people around who can help Sadie protect her food long enough to eat it (up to some hours or not at all, if you, as the person, get tired of waiting for her and simply take it away). “She doesn’t like to have the other dogs around,” says A, and I used to believe her. Not so much anymore.

For the last three mornings that I’ve fed the dogs, Sadie has wandered around the kitchen studiously avoiding her bowl while the Labs are gluttoning outside. The moment the Labs are let back onto the porch, Sadie goes on the alert. The Labs all know that her food is off limits, though, and have known it for a long time, and so they pretty much ignore her. This does not suit her at all, and she gives a sharp bark to draw their attention to her full bowl, because up until now she has not eaten one bite. Hoover or Tessa, more willing than Spackle to eat things that aren’t theirs, will come into the kitchen to investigate, at which point Sadie puts one paw in her bowl, bares her teeth, and snarls. She then slowly, delicately, begins her meal.

Sadie eats one piece at a time, chewing carefully, taking her time, gauging the reaction of her audience. There is no danger of her throwing up a stomach full of not only undigested, but mostly unchewed food. She is a chewer. It’s more frustrating for the other dogs that way. When the one-piece-at-a-time method gets boring for the observer, who still knows that the human in the room will help Sadie finish her meal, and the observer wanders away, Sadie issues another sharp bark, and someone else comes gamely in to watch. This time, Sadie removes food from her bowl, three pieces at a time, and drops it on the floor next to the bowl. The predator Lab looks to the human for permission, at this point, to eat those pieces. After all, they’re not in the bowl. But no, they are still Sadie’s, and she eats them carefully, smugly, one at a time, chewing completely each piece. This demoralizes the Labs more than anything a human could do.

Thursday evening and yesterday morning I fed Spackle and Sadie together in the kitchen, since I’d changed Spackle’s food, and thought perhaps he’d chew better if he himself wasn’t dogged by Tessa and Hoover, but mostly he was distracted by being in the kitchen, and when he wasn’t wolfing, he was wandering, at which point Sadie immediately launched herself at HIS bowl, not at all above stealing herself if offered an opportunity to do so, which I assume she never had been before. I had to point Spackle back to his bowl and Sadie back to hers multiple times.

This morning, Spackle half-heartedly ate his food, but Sadie wasn’t interested in hers at all, even when the other dogs came back in, and so she’ll get it for dinner. She did have the runs on the walk today (wasn’t that pretty on the snow!), and I probably have been giving treats slightly more than the farm dogs are used to, so Sadie probably didn’t need the calories. We’ll see how dinner goes in about an hour.

Her behavior is not limited to mealtimes, however; after we returned from our trudge today I gave each dog a tiny rawhide stick. The Labradors each found a comfortable bed to lie on and munched until their sticks, within two minutes, were gone. Sadie wandered through the kitchen and dining room, hers in her mouth like a cigarillo, and would not sit down. Kit, K&A’s useta dog (a designation I accidentally coined long ago trying to describe a former dog of my mother’s, who used to be around), would take rawhide out and bury it in the manure pile; I actually saw a piece retrieved once, and it was the strangest translucent, rubbery, rectangular thing dangling from Kit’s teeth. Anyway, I was trying to forestall the treat burial, so for a couple minutes I wouldn’t let Sadie outside. But then I relented, told her it was a gift for her, and she could do with it what she chose. She trotted outside and I closed the door.

Less than a minute later, she gave a peremptory bark, and Hoover gamely got off his bed and went to the door. I opened it to see if Sadie wanted to come in, but no, she wanted Hoover to go out. I guess she showed him where she stashed her rawhide, but she wouldn’t give it to him, so after a couple desultory minutes he gave a bark to come back in. Sadie, after another minute or two, barked again, and this time came back in when I opened the door and went to her bed, rawhide-free.

After another short time, Hoover got up and asked to be let out. Sadie immediately ran to the door, pushed him aside, and preceded him through, reappearing with her rawhide in her mouth again, looking askance at Hoover. “Okay,” I said, amused with, but also bored of this drama, “you can have this another time,” and I took the rawhide from Sadie and put it on top the fridge with her breakfast.

All dogs are now snoring in blissful, exhausted peace. 

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