Dingo: The First Month

This is a screenshot from a video. STILL shots of this dog would require sedation!

It has been almost a month now since we first freaked when a new dog terrorized our chickens, and only two weeks since we first “met” this dog. He has come so far, and we have so far yet to go. I’d hoped to spend more time shaping this early cameo of Dingo’s early days, but alas, the Muse now carries a leash and a peanut-butter Kong and does very little typing.

There have been times over the past week when I was sure we had over-committed, had acted out of the heart and not the head. In the end of things, we would surely be compelled to endure the pain of a promise, broken, and would see the grief of goodbye in the eyes of a dog we almost loved and then, relinquished with mixed emotions, to strangers.

I’d like to think this was the hardest week in the long life of a new family member sent by the Adoption Agency of Canine Fate. I know the week of Dingo’s neutering has been an ordeal for all of us–quite possibly, least of all the dog. There will be weeks worse than this, maybe, but surely, please, not the week to come. We all need a break.

I say this as I see this through the eye of faith, with hope, more than a little exhausted by what it has taken to keep a year-old puppy from “running, jumping or getting the stitches wet” for 7 to 10 days, per the recommendation.

This has been almost impossible, since the dog kept saying “What stitches?” and dashing full speed to an abrupt halt at the end of his six foot leash or bounding over furniture, unrestrained by pain, discipline or good sense.

At the root of this logistical turmoil has been the apparent novelty for this dog of every aspect of “normal” that we’ve grown used to now with almost seven years with Gandy. She reads our thoughts. She knows the nuance of our footsteps. She totally wants to do the dance that has become so deeply a part of her personality and character. Dingo does not hear the music at all. And what’s worse, he is all left feet.

He has no social skills or sense of behavioral propriety whatsoever–not having been much around people or other dogs; never in a house or a car (except to be dropped off in this strange place along Goose Creek almost a month ago; never was the recipient of all of the attention and love he so earnestly asks for there at our side no matter what we are doing, inside or out.

This is a smart dog. He already knows (and inconsistently obeys) the command to SIT. He does this faithfully at the beginning of walk-about, and both dogs sitting attentively looking up for a treat makes a gratifying scene. Once sitting, STAY will keep Dingo across the room until COME brings him to his food or a Kong with a smear of peanut butter.

We have to suspect that he has never been on a leash before. He’s done well on that count, and learned quickly to walk with us instead of freezing in place as he did on day one–as if he’d once been chained in place.

He may have never had much human care. Although he is a loving and affectionate dog, he hasn’t a clue how to show it. With Gandy, now that his interest has shifted from his Little Brain’s fanatic drives towards his Big Brain’s desire to make friends, he is like a gawky adolescent: enamored of the opposite sex, but drop-dead dumb about how to engage one of them without a total turn-off.

“Hey, watch me put your whole face in my mouth! Want to see me spin around really fast and catch my back foot in my teeth? Think I can run all the way under your belly and come out on the other side? Huh? Huh?” Gandy says: Dog NERD!

But he is having some calm moments, finally, not so many days after returning from his surgery, on the heels of totally forgetting any progress he had made before it. We’ve started over again from the bottom of the learning curve.

He has been actively affectionate to Gandy–when not showing off–and to us this week, including to my mother who was a stranger to him for only a half-minute. It will take time to widen his exposure to other creatures and humans, and know he can trust them. He has had a shaky first year in that regard.

Like the puppy that he is, his brain map has a huge territory devoted to the MOUTH. He is prone to showing his affection by mouthing the hand of whoever attempts to show him attention, and if he persists with this, we withdraw attention and scold him: NO BITE! He has shredded a rubber glove, a small pillow and an old quilt. So far, no gnawed furniture, which was part of Gandy’s puppyhood tooth-works.

The encouraging background of all of this is that he shows much promise on many fronts, and that we don’t have to endure his first year, but only his second, as a puppy. It will be a long year, to be sure, but one higher in energy and longer in country miles around the pasture and woods than without this new activity director living with us.

He is an intelligent and oh-so-faithful dog. I think we should have no fear of his running off, after he has so decisively chosen this family and this place out of all the places he must have wandered to get here. His claws are mere nubs. We will always wonder about his story, before Goose Creek, and never know.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My heart goes out to you Fred – going through much of this with Tulo right now – a year in a crate has meant that he too had no skills – at least he was neutered big hugs Rob

  2. I truly enjoyed reading this well written story! All sounds well on Goose Creek, and I am happy to hear it. Keep us updated with future adventures.