13 Dogs and a Lawn Chair

My dog is terrified of inanimate objects. We noticed it shortly after we brought him home at 3 months old. On every walk, he shyed away from road signs and sandwich boards. He eyed them like they were aliens peering at him out of differently shaped heads. He had a particular issue with empty boxes.

We experimented with this a bit, partly out of our own curiosity and admittedly partly because of the power we had over our darling sandy-colored golden doodle when we moved an ice cream bar box 6 inches in any direction. “Watch Barley!” my youngest would say while tapping the box with her foot. The dog would take off like Scooby Doo seeing a werewolf, his feet slipping on the wood floor lickety-split. You would think he’d been watching reruns.

I am not new to dogs although this is my first as an adult. I grew up on a farm, but farm dogs are different. Perhaps arguing with skunks and porcupines tends to put inanimate objects like fence posts in perspective.

When I say I grew up on a farm with dogs, I do mean more than one. All in all, there were 13. Many of them chose us – and a few we chose. Unlike the “dumpy dog house” a few miles down the road who had a small hoarding problem, our dogs came (mostly) one at a time. Sadly, farm dogs have a little shorter shelf life, if you know what I mean.

First, there was Stubby, a mid-sized, long-haired dog also know as Cylops because he was missing a leg and an eye; then Taco, a small white-ish cheerful little mix followed by Burrito and Enchilada (who roamed in one day, stayed for a couple of weeks, and then one day just disappeared). Next came Sniffles, a caramel -colored cocker spaniel who met an early demise when  she was run over by Grandma, and then Rosie who was a black lab puppy named after the football player Rosie Greer who had an unfortunate encounter with a Volkswagen bug. Following her was Zuker and Black Magic who had farm equipment encounters they didn’t recover from. Next was my favorite Sam, a sweet black and white springer spaniel who thought he was a lap dog; and then Daiquiri, a sheltie mix who survived a couple of porcupines and a badger followed soon by Dudley – a black cocker spaniel who helped my dad through the launching of his four kids. Finally, there was Killer. Killer was a lovable Australian cattle dog who tried to “herd” us when we drove down the driveway. He out-stayed us on the farm. By the time my dad moved into a smaller house, poor old Killer couldn’t hear or see very well. It didn’t seem right to move him. He died down by the creek not long after we left. Just right for a good old farm dog.

I know. That is a lot of dogs. My sister was a nut about all of them. And like everything else my sister felt strongly about, I deferred to her. I have a vivid mental picture of her holding Daiquiri down to pull porcupine quills out of his nose. Although I wasn’t the “mistress” of our dogs, they were a big source of comfort to me at just the right times. I have fond memories of walking the hills behind the house, staring at the stars, singing and praying, with a trusty dog running around close by, scaring up mice. Those dogs heard some sad stories over the years, and were perfect companions to hug and cry to when the world was just too much.

I’m not sure Barley, our golden doodle, is high on the intuitive scale like some dogs. The last time one of us cried, he grabbed a skanky toy and rushed over barking for someone to play with him. But he is still young, and he is still trying to make it through puppy puberty, so I am hoping that his capacity for empathy will grow. Sort of like my teens.

In the meantime, he runs from inanimate objects.

Perhaps what really put him over the edge was a certain incident with the most dreaded of all inanimate objects: a lawn chair.

Earlier this winter when Barley was about 6 months old, I took him for a long walk up in the mountains behind the house. He was so happy up there free-ranging it:  no leash, racing through mud puddles, sniffing (and eating) horse crap, getting caught in blackberry vines, and stopping to stare at wood peckers and squirrels. Happy. Happy as a dog can possibly be.

Naturally, when we returned, his normally golden and white-ish fur had morphed into wet, filthy black and brown with forest shrapnel all over him. I decided to spray him down with a new “gentle” sprayer I had recently purchased. I tied his leash around the leg of one of the lawn chairs. These chairs are hearty, really – not those $8 plastic ones we had for years. So – I thought it was the perfect weight to anchor him. Not too much. Not too little.

I turned on the water and it shot out of that garden hose through my new fancy “gentle” sprayer like a firehose into a burning house. Yikes! That is when Barley started running.

He sprinted out of the starting gate with his leash firmly attached around the leg of the chair – and what do you know -the chair took off after him! The faster he ran, the faster the chair chased him! Yelping and crying and barking like he was being attacked by a starving mountain lion, Barley nearly flew around the back yard, looking back over his shoulder with a terrified look in his eye which then, of course, caused the chair to smack him all the more. Whenever he moved, it moved!

By the time I finally got to him, he was exhausted, poor puppy. But all I could do was laugh.

I got him cleaned up sufficiently to come in the house and he was calmed down, but for the next two days he sat by the back door staring at those lawn chairs, as if he was waiting for them to take off running again.

Yes, I think that might have been the clincher for his inanimate object fear. Bless his heart. I hope he is around for a long time.

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