Expressions of Love

My border collie has me well-trained. Just a few minutes ago she called me downstairs and had me open the back door for her so she could go patrol her domain for squirrels. I left the door open too, even with a 45F rainy day outside. If I hadn’t, she would have insisted on a cookie for being made to wait, rather than being able to walk right back in whenever she wanted. I can leave the cookie box out; she won’t help herself if I am out of the room. But as soon as I return, she will herd me to it and bark once or twice, just to make sure I know what she wants.

Now, this didn’t happen all at once. When my husband and I first met our G-girl at the mobile adoption center thirteen years ago, it was love at first sight. We weren’t looking to adopt a dog; in fact, our apartment complex had a single-cat policy. We already had a Maine Coon mix, and a guinea pig too. G-girl was a two-timer, we were told, adopted out to a local family who brought her back because “it didn’t work out.” The one-year-old, shaggy, black-and-white puppy tore at our hearts. We took her for a short walk. Ears up, fluffy tail bobbing with every step, she seemed so bright and alert. We signed the papers right then and there.

It took the complex management nearly two weeks to catch us out walking our G-girl along the edge of the woods. My husband pled with the manager, in tears, to let us keep her. They relented, telling us we had to keep her out of sight until we could move. We made arrangements to rent a house. During that time I learned that border collies get bored. And when they get bored, they find things to amuse themselves, like chewing shoes. I filled the apartment with chew toys, empty paper towel rolls, balls of newspaper. We would come home from class and she would be sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by unpalatable alternatives, with one of our shoes cradled between her paws. Her head would in shame, her normally perky ears down. She wouldn’t run and hide, though. She would come up, drop to the floor right in front of us, and demand a belly rub.

Eventually, she stopped chewing, bored with the whole thing.

One thing we loved about that rented house was the fenced-in back yard. In the beginning, we would let G-girl out the back door, into the yard. She quickly found ways to get out. One time, my husband watched from the window as she carefully climbed, paw over paw, up the chain-link-fence. Another time she nosed the latch of the gate open and simply walked out. I even saw her leap up onto the dog house, left behind by the previous owners, and easily jump from there into the neighbor’s yard. Each time she would go to the front door and bark to be let in. When we opened the door, we would be greeted by a dancing dog: her eyes bright, her tail bouncing, ears up. She was proud that she had solved the puzzle we had given her.

Eventually, we managed to persuade her that she was supposed to stay in that yard. She did, but grudgingly.

We taught her both audible and hand signals for the typical doggy commands: “come,” “sit,” “stay,” “heel,” and “lie down.” And while she understands the commands speak and sing, she refuses to do them unless certain that a treat will follow. We are fairly certain she has learned a fair amount of English. My husband and I have several nicknames for her; not only does she respond to all of them, she knows when we are talking about her even if we do not mention her by name. While she won’t beg at the table for people food, she will wait patiently for someone, ok me, to offer her a bit of biscuit or some other nibble from the plate.

That is, until one of us shows her two open palms, fingers up, and says “all gone.” Her face, always expressive, will droop a bit, and then she will go flop down in some other part of the room, certain we are holding out on her.

Our baby-girl is fourteen years old, has cataracts and arthritis. We have been told that she will still go into vicious-attack-dog mode if someone tries to enter the house when we are not home; this is a face I have never seen. She still chases squirrels, even though she has no idea what she should do with one when she catches it. She is demanding, a little whiny, and we have no idea what we are going to do when she is no longer with us.