Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Callie, Commander of All

Callie is an exceptionally smart Australian Shepherd. In our house, she is the boss of all other animals - no matter how small or large. Luckily she mostly rules with kindness, but it's interesting to see how she decides on a rule and then enforces it. Her rules and mine don't always coincide, but I can trust her to protect the property and the other animals, as well as to keep them in line.

For example, in Callie's Rule Book, her adopted brother Simon (also an Aussie) can bark at the horses and chase them, but if he shows signs of aggression towards them, she will flip him on his back and knock the wind out of him until he behaves. He is allowed to bark at the mailman, but again, any acts perceived by her as aggressive are swiftly dispensed with. Our cats are allowed to play anywhere on the property, but other cats and dogs may come on onto the property only with Callie's express permission and on her terms. Despite this, she is wonderful with foster puppies and kittens, and as gentle as a dog can possibly be.

If Callie were human and had to make a living, I think she would make a good lawyer. Part of this is because of her very obvious rule based decision making, as referenced above. But part is that she finds the loophole in every instruction - a trait in her I so admire, I can't bear to not reward her cleverness. For example, when foster kittens are eating milk and wet cat food off a plate in the kitchen, Callie is warned "Don't you dare touch that plate - it's only for kittens!" And she gets this. So she waits until the kittens leave a sloppy little ring of food on the floor around the plate, and she licks it off the floor, being VERY careful to ensure her tongue does not touch the plate. I have to give her that one - she didn't fail to follow the instruction. Another example: walking in the foothills I often ask her, when she is off leash and up ahead, to get "Off trail" so someone can pass, usually a bike. She will get off, look back at me, and very deliberately step back onto the trail unless I ask her to "Wait" or "Stay." Again, she wins - I failed to give a complete instruction, she didn't fail to follow it. I love those doggy loopholes. She keeps me on my toes.

Callie gets depressed when I travel, and clingy when I return, and each trip seems to take a little out of her, as though she's keenly aware we missed time together and she can't get it back. She makes me keenly aware of it too, and in turn it depresses me. But I can't take her to Africa, or on all business trips, or any trip that involves a plane...so sometimes she has to stay here. I plan treats for her while I am away but I know it's not the same. Today I am packing, and she knows, so she is hovering, wondering, I think, what now, if she can come, how long I'll be gone. It puts an edge of sadness on packing.

She loves to come to work with me, especially when we walk there. She loves to ride in the car (the driver's seat is hers when unoccupied by humans). She loves agility, and herding sheep when she gets a chance, and running around playing a game with a dog friend of hers we call the Rabbit Game. (The other dog, a small terrier type dog with big ears, Peta, pretends to be the rabbit and Callie chases her - a game they both love and all humans who watch enjoy). Callie likes having jobs to do, and I wish I had more for her. She loves children so much I once considered having a kid for my dog (luckily I could see this was a bad idea). She is special beyond words - and I am sure there will be stories of her exploits in the posts to come.

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