Thursday, February 5, 2009

127. Pete is dumb, but he's lovable

They say that Bulldogs are one of the least intelligent dog breeds. Pete, our American Bulldog mix, sure seems to be as advertised. To say this kindly, he is a very simple dog. He wants to eat, chase things and be with you every moment of the day. While my other dogs were quick to learn "tricks," Pete barely knows how to shake hands. Easton, a beagle mix, meanwhile, has the full repertoire-learning to "roll over" in about ten minutes. He also will jump into my arms when I ask, turning as he leaps, landing nearly shoulder high. He did this by accident once and thinking that it was pretty cool we immediately rewarded him. Now, he does it just to show off.

Pete loves food. Really loves food. We often wonder not if he would eat an entire bag of food if left to it, but how fast he would eat it. You would think that he would be easily trained, since the food reward matters so much to him. Actually, he is too fixated on the food, and just offers his paw repeatedly. I am sure that a dog trainer could train him to be more focused, but our relationship is neither benefited nor enhanced by whether he can speak or rollover.

Pete also loves to explore, and has the not-to-be deterred resilience that is common to his breed. We occasionally have rabbits and other critters visiting under our shed. The prospect of catching a critter delights Pete to no end, and he would spend hours if left unattended looking for the animal. His process is simple: Look under the near end of the shed and then run to the other side and look under the far end of the shed. I can just hear his optimistic thought process, "No animal here, better check the other side." The success rate of this method of attack, thus far, is exactly zero.

Pete, however, has indeed caught one animal, though it was by complete accident. My wife went screaming outside to get Pete when she realized that he had run across a baby rabbit in the grass. The rabbit was a cute fur ball, small enough to sit in the palm of my hands. What did Pete do to this animal, one that would make a nice snack and easily fit within his large jaws? He licked it, over and over. Maybe he was just tasting it, but, actually, I think he loved him and wanted to keep it as his pet.

Perhaps unfairly, we give Pete, in a primal anthropomorphic way, a "Neanderthal" voice. This is typically a two word sentence, with a third person self-reference, such as, "Pete hungry," "Pete tired," or "Pete cold." He is remarkably raw, and surprisingly kind and loving considering his strength. Our little Shea, older and now fragile, still keeps him in line. Nibbling at his ears when he "breaks the rules," he either ignores her or tries to play with her-completely missing the point.

Pete has learned, often from the other dogs, how to behave-well at least sometimes. He now waits patiently at the dinner table for us to finish, makes room for us in the bed (he used to get quite upset at the idea that he was being removed to the floor for the night), and has learned his boundaries within the invisible fence. But there is certainly room to grow. The house training thing has only been a marginal success, he still paces the room if there is an unconsumed morsel of food remaining on a plate after dinner, and he gets bored quickly-seeking attention through an annoying and loud exchange of playful growls and barks.

I think, most of all, Pete wants to be part of the family. He seems to appreciate his rescue from an unsheltered mud pit that he previously called home. His past might be responsible for his separation anxiety, I do not know. But I do know that he wants to be with us all the time, a loyal and patient friend that follows us from room to room, inside and outside.

He carefully watches our house, and when something a little too unusual is happening outside, he runs to me, stops barking and stares me straight in the eyes, as to say, "Boss, you better check this out." I trust him to protect us, however, I do remember one late night when I came downstairs to check on a noise I had heard. He followed closely behind me, step by step down the stairs, looking up as to say, "Pete thinks someone breaking in." I thought, you are the tough guy, run down there and find out!

At the end of "Marley and Me," the most perfect words are narrated, "A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, clever or dumb. ... Give him your heart and he'll give you his." Truth is, Pete has our hearts, and we care not whether he is clever or dumb, behaves or misbehaves or even if he follows behind me down the stairs.

I think he is smart enough to know that.

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