A horrible camera-phone pic of Sammy on the way to church this morning.
Sammy and Godric have had a few weeks to settle in and get used to home, so now the daily work has begun. Every day they go somewhere with us – a restaurant, a building where they have to climb stairs, someone’s house, etc. Sammy is ready to start public interior training – like libraries and so on – and will do that next; Godric’s bladder is still a bit too small but he’s not far off. The story that I want to tell is not whether or not they’re doing well (they’re doing great!) but how this has made me think about the work that dogs do.
Before I had these little dogs – Ginny and now Godric and Sammy – I had the same thought about companion dogs that most “big dog” people do: They basically sit on laps. Not a heck of a lot of utility.
Now I realize that I was totally wrong – because companion dogs don’t sit on laps – they SIT ON LAPS. It’s like the difference between chasing sheep and herding them, honestly – at church, for example, Sammy and Godric greeted many people, they sat on Honour’s lap without asking to get off, and they were handed around to the gentle old ladies and the not-so-gentle youth leaders and the kids getting lemonade afterward. In every set of arms they were still and accepting; to every face they were friendly; they never barked or fought to get down and they quietly stood between Honour’s feet when they weren’t greeting people.
If you want to appreciate how difficult that is for a dog, imagine carrying around and handing a one-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer to five eighty-year-old women in a row. A Papillon and a GSP are the same animal. Same brain, same basic instinctive reactions. It’s just as much a specialized behavior for a dog to sit still on a stranger’s lap as she plays with your hair and sniffs your head (everybody sniffs Sammy’s head; I know that it’s actually because she’s super, super clean and soft all the time and they’re surprised how nice she feels and smells, but I have to laugh because it’s like she’s made out of cheesecake) as it is for a dog to point a bird.
And you can tell afterward, too. When we got back in the car after two hours of being social, the two of them CRASHED. They were so exhausted they licked at food for a minute and then fell asleep with their faces in the bowl. These are dogs who run and play all day, but being still and perfect is concentrated, deliberate work.
It’s honestly amazing to watch; they change just as much as a corgi changes when they turn on to sheep. It’s not that they don’t need training, because of course they do, but the basic brain structures are already there. When we were at an outdoor restaurant on Saturday, we were eating fries with a three-month-old Papillon puppy lounging on the picnic table next to plates of food. He’s a complete wild man at home, but out and about he watched everybody walk by, wagged at them, didn’t move toward them unless told to, and took food only when it was handed to him. Trust me, it’s not because I am a great trainer. It’s because for three hundred years his breed has been refined until that kind of thing is hard-wired.
It’s given me a whole new facet of dog-ness to appreciate, honestly, and be fascinated by. And it doesn’t hurt that they are so cute it’s ridiculous.