Sunday, August 7, 2011

Introducing Dickens


Big day for Dickens yesterday. For Daisy and me, too.

Dickens was driven from his foster home in Vancouver, Washington, to Eugene, Oregon. From there Daisy and I took him the rest of the way to his new home here in Myrtle Point.

Dickens is a rangy, dark red Golden Retriever with the energy of a runaway nuclear reactor and, so far, about as much self-control. Daisy and I are cutting him a lot of slack because he’s new here at what will be his third home in 11 months. But he has some issues…

Just about the first thing Dickens did when he got here was tumble a bowl of dog food off the kitchen counter and suck it up like a shop vac even as I was hauling him away from it. I’d been warned he was a counter-surfer. I supposed I imagined a wet nose snuffling comically along the edge of the counter, looking for crumbs. The reality is a dog with the reach of an orangutan and the ability to sweep a counter clean almost all the way to the wall.

My folding exercise pen is now deployed at the border between the kitchen and the living room like barbed wire at a Cold War checkpoint.

Another issue is Dickens’ insistence that all toys are his. The fact that he can fit two tennis balls and a Nylabone in his mouth at the same time means he can almost back up that claim. Daisy, who is a shy, polite lady of 11 years, has little interest in toys, but she is fond of her tennis ball, and resents Dickens seizing it in his gaping maw. But as she is less than half Dickens’ size, and nowhere near him in terms of sheer rambunctiousness, she defers to him.

Miss Daisy is not amused.

Along with Dickens’ counter-surfing prowess comes the expectation of sleeping on the human’s bed at night. This is not the policy here, nor will it ever be. End of discussion. He and I have already had a couple of meetings about this. Apparently I have not made it sufficiently clear that my position encompasses not getting on the human’s bed at all, for any reason, including irrational exuberance of the kind Alan Greenspan never imagined. It’s a fine distinction for a dog, but we’re working on clarifying it.

My old Golden, Winzer, was crate trained. A crate, or portable kennel, is a wonderful thing to many dogs, a place to sleep, or to just get away from a noisy household. Winzer’s crate was his refuge; I never bothered him when he was in it. To Dickens, the crate is pretty much Devil’s Island. I lured him into it the first time by scattering food in the back, but he never got more than two feet over the threshold. I eventually got him to go inside, but maybe he’s done time in a state pen somewhere, because the instant he heard the door shut and the latch turn, he went nuts. So we’re working our way slowly toward getting him used to being in it, but so far it’s a losing battle.

Dickens is what I've heard called a Velcro dog, in that he sticks stubbornly to me. He wants to be able so see me at all times; if he can't he barks until he can. Not unusual, I think, for a dog with probable abandonment issues, but if he’s in the back yard and I’m not, I can’t have him barking and pawing the door until I come outside or let him in. I work at home––the key word being work––and most days I can take frequent breaks. But some days I can't, and unless he’s willing to sit quietly by my side for several hours at a stretch, or go out in the back yard with Daisy, we’re going to have a problem. And the first time I need to go somewhere I can't take him...well, that'll be an interesting day.

I realize it all sounds bad so far, but the aforementioned Winzer was as wild as a dingo when I got him, and he ended up being the best canine friend I ever had. Dickens has some big paw prints to fill if he’s going to measure up to Winzer, and I have to remember all the training tricks I learned with Winzer to use with Dickens.

To that end I’ve contacted Ramona Pessa, who was a member of a group I used to train with back when I was competing with Winzer in AKC Obedience trials. She’s now the president of Furry Friends Therapy Dogs, an organization that recruits, evaluates, and trains dog and handler teams to visit caregiving facilities like hospitals and nursing homes. That’s my eventual goal for Dickens.

I might need some therapy myself by the time Dickens calms down and turns into the real dog I’m sure he’s capable of becoming. Apart from being as crazy as a box of frogs, he’s smart, affectionate, and endearingly goofy. Once we agree on what everyone’s job description is here at the house, we can start making progress.


  1. Selena and I can't wait to meet him. (And to give Daisy our condolences in person.)

    Knowing how well you did with Winzer, I'm sure the Dickens taming process is just a matter of time. And patience. Have fun!

  2. Please remember that Dickens is not Winzer . He is his own dog. All dogs coming from an adoption will have issues as they learn about their new home and people. Best wishes to you and him at a smooth and lasting adoption! I loved my crazy golden for 2 years until god called him home and I miss those things about him that made him him.

  3. Oh no a month goes by and no post on Dickens!! All the best

  4. Dickens is well. I've been busy, with little time for non-paying writing. I'll try to get something new up soon.

  5. How is Dickens progressing?

  6. He's doing great. He and Daisy stayed with Sue (who boards them when I'm away) for the last two days. She noticed Dickens was a lot more attentive and calm than he was the first time she boarded him last year. Some of that is maturity, I suspect, and some of it is the growing realization that he's part of a permanent pack now with a role to play. The human member of the pack has been too busy to do a lot of training with him, but Dickens seems to absorb whatever training he gets pretty quickly.