ANGUS THE DOG OR A MASTER'S PLAINT By Tim Williams (Article)
Angus or a Master’s Plaint
I had not realized the potential significance of “Angus” until a six-week-old Bernadoodle arrived in our home, assuming my hitherto unused second name. For several years my wife Gloria had been musing about acquiring a dog. When this became insistent, I gave in. “It will be your responsibility, but I’m not going to stand in your way”.
Where to find a dog as beloved as Gloria’s “Bijou” in long-ago West Berlin? That family poodle had been affectionate, good-natured, obedient and good-looking. Gloria had admired a kind of small Bernese in our Manor Park neighborhood. From its owners she obtained an address in Smith’s Falls. The breeder’s internet showed seven puppies whose origins were Bernese Mountain Dog and Australian Labradoodle. Number 4 looked cutest. On a scouting trip Gloria and our daughter-in-Law Rachel clicked with him. We took him home on June 6, the beginning of an unexpected change in our lives.
I had expected to be able to admire Angus’ good lucks and watch Gloria’s ministrations from a benevolent, kindly distance. None of that! Angus quickly took over the household. The rhythm of our days now became dominated by our new child’s (Gloria took to referring to me as “Your Daddy”) toilet habits. A fence was hurriedly built to keep him inside our perimeter. Regular trips to the back yard – just before bedtime, twice in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning – became imperative. The garden lawn is now spotted with urine burns. Our back pockets are full of little green bags
I had bought Gloria three books on dog training, expecting her to master and apply their nostrums. The problem: Angus and his demands and proclivities have taken over. I have no choice but to get involved in the effort to save papers, clothing and belongings from being torn to shreds. Books are particularly tempting. A booklet on muzzles given me by my friend Rejean Doyon was so interesting that Angus has eaten most of it.
Our household and cottage now reflect the dog’s presence. Our house is full of curios and furnishings accumulated during nine foreign service postings. Angus’ ability to wiggle his way past obstacles became manifest when piles of emissions began appearing on our Tunisian and Turkish carpets. “Where’s the spray” became a daily exclamation. A bell on the back door now signals us he “wants out” to use the toilet facility on the back lawn or amongst the lilies that were once Gloria’s pride. Comfortable cushions have been hidden. The carpet in the TV room is being dismantled thread by thread by his sharp young teeth. The living room and winter garden are cordoned off with plastic walls hastily borrowed from sympathetic neighbors.
Advised by other dog owners, we registered for a six-session course at the Ottawa Canine School on St. Laurent Boulevard, under the impression Angus would be trained to obey us. It only slowly dawned on us we were being indoctrinated into implementing the hard slog ahead. How to use “treats” at the right moment to get him to “Sit!”, “Stay!” or “Lie down”? How to avoid the “tug of wars” ensuring when we try to retrieve a stolen napkin or facecloth? How to turn him into the obedient, submissive friend we wanted? It turns out there’s work involved. The rhythm of our days is now dominated by our new family member. Where will this end?
My criteria were simple – appearance and personality. A tall, seventyish woman (“Gloria” or some such) and a beautiful forty-something person (“Rachel”, I believe) inspected the seven of us at our rearing household. My choice fell on these two as potentially cooperative human partners. I could see they liked my combination of white, black and brown. I made winsome yelps of pleasure as they stroked me awkwardly. I was only listed number 4 in the litter but I had my way in the choice of a permanent home. We set off for the great adventure.
My first dwelling had been a bath, then a small basket. Now a large house on Eastbourne Avenue was at my disposal. A myriad of exciting targets presented themselves – exotic clothes hanging from tables (Laos or Thailand?), Turkish or Tunisian carpets, a variety of cushions and many other delights to satisfy my biting or munching urges. My sharp baby teeth are growing, and I feel the need to sink them into anything in my path, in a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde mode.
How are my new partners reacting? There is much worry and lots of conversation, much of it “animated”. Property rights and cleanliness appear to be an obsession. Yes, my body seems to have a mind of its own and, yes, my growing teeth demand an object to bite on. Two months after my arrival I have tripled my weight. (How superior to human babies!) My masters have now bought a third halter, after I wriggled out of the first one. I feel for them, but can do no other.
I confess to getting tired of the inane explanations of my heritage offered to other dog-owners during the now mandatory tire-him-out neighborhood walks. Yes, you could call me a “designer dog” if you wish. But are my owners not just as much mongrels – the one originally from West Berlin, the other of English-Scottish-Austrian origin in Victoria, B.C.? Their family relationships are just as mixed up as mine (another Angus, also on Eastbourne, a distant cousin and my half-sister Bernadette on Dunvegan). Look people, this is the new Canada, this is here and now. Let’s get on with satisfying our mutual basic needs and live convivially!
A propos basic needs, I gather from snatches of conversation there’s a threat to manhood. It seems they hope for a quieter companion. But could you please discuss this with me?
I am not unaware of the “war of conditioning”. My masters are rewarding me with “treats” for fulfilling my bodily functions at locations of their choosing. I am to be habituated to their commands by association with a reward. I on the other hand indulge in excited nipping, sometimes leaving scratches. I am usually rewarded when I desist from nipping and scratching, making it rational to repeat these enjoyable behaviors.
On another point, I must start insisting on more interesting daily fare than “Performatrin Ultra Whole Foods for Whole Dogs” obtained from the otherwise excellent Your Pet Palace. The seven-dollar English cheddar or the special sausage from Jacobsen’s Delicacy that I snatched yesterday from grandson Owen’s table would do.
Among the other signs of my influence is a change in household vocabulary. On arrival I detected a certain verbal reserve in my “master”, probably a result of prudish upbringing in Victoria. The emanations from my body have now injected words such as “pee-ing” or that silly little word “poop” into normal family parlance. I found this intrusion into my bodily operations a bit intrusive at first, but now find it mildly amusing to listen to their worried cogitations about my toilet habits. “O tempora, O mores!”
One final point: As part of her sales pitch, the breeder commissioned a psychological assessment of me. The adjectives “PLAYFUL, SMART, AFFECTIONATE” have been borne out. I do however resent being called a “silly puppy”. Furthermore, my energy level can, I contend, fairly be called high, not just “mid-high”. Yes, I “will readily follow a human” but I also have a mind of my mind and will not be pulled.
I conclude provisionally on a note of self-satisfaction. I am making my mark. I have become the darling of the early morning crowd at the Rockcliffe Lawn Tennis Club My arrival has made a serious dent in my masters’ daily schedules. The family dynamic now includes frequent discussions, even mild arguments, about me. I represent a new substantial item in their budget. Arrangements are underway to provide “R and R” with daughter-in-law Rachel. I look forward to a growing leadership role.
Tags: Tim Williams