Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Doggy Dog Weekend

My life has been a bit surreal for the past few days.  It all started last weekend when I received a call from my good friend, Jill.  (This isn't an embarrassing story, so I don't think I need to use a code name.)  She and her hubby were going out of state (to Florida) for a few days and their dogsitting arrangements had fallen through at pretty much the last minute.  She was wondering if I would be able to stay at her house and watch her Border Collie, Moko, while they were gone.

I agreed rather quickly to this arrangement.  First of all, I knew that I did not have plans for this weekend, other than doing some dog-sitting for my parents during the day on Saturday.  Luckily, Jill and her husband live about 10 minutes from my parents, so that presented no problem.  Second, Jill's dog has always seemed like a pretty accepting guy and I was sure that he wouldn't have a problem dealing with me on his turf. 

After I agreed to the request, I started to think about it a little more.  Jill had me over the next day to show me where all the important supplies were kept and to go over Moko's schedule.  On my way home that night, I started to think about it a bit more and realized that it might be a good idea to take some time off of work just in case Moko's adjustment time took a bit longer.  Thank goodness I did.

I arrived on Thursday evening, after work and after dark.  The house was in darkness as well, but I expected to be greeted at the door as most dogs I have ever met are quite forward with newcomers.  My reception was the opposite of this.  I opened the door to silence.  No movement, no sound.  At first, I thought that perhaps a neighbor had come and taken him out for a walk. 

Cautiously I started turning on lights and walking through the house, calling his name.  No response.  Finally, I peeked up the stairs to the landing where I knew he liked to sit when he was playing and saw two big brown eyes staring back at me.  I figured he was a bit confused and maybe frightened, so I just let him be while I came in and unpacked.  I assumed that he would come down when he was ready.

An hour later, he remained in the same place.  I had put out his food and tried to ply him with treats, but he wasn't having it.  After several frantic calls to Jill who was almost as baffled as I was at his behavior, I decided to just let him be and hope for the best in the morning.  If he had an accident in the house, I would clean it up.  So be it.

Sometime in the course of the night, he must have decided that he was going to accept the situation because he came downstairs and was interacting with me.  Slowly but surely, we bonded.  Since then, things have gone pretty much as I expected them to when I agreed to the deal in the first place.  The only bummer is that the temperatures have been very low and walking weather has not been ideal.  Jill lives in an area of the city that is adjacent to some awesome walking trails, and I would have loved to take him out on those, but I'm pretty sure my face would freeze off first. 

Instead, we have played HOURS of Moko's favorite game:  Stairball.  What is Stairball?  Well.  Basically, Moko sits at the top of the steep staircase to the second floor of the house with an orange rubber ball.  When he thinks he has the attention of a human, he drops or noses this ball bouncing down the stairs. 

The human on the receiving end of the ball has a few options.  The first and easiest option is to throw the ball back up the stairs to him.  He will catch it - have no doubt about it.  This is one smart and coordinated fellow.  The second option is to throw the ball in the opposite direction of the stairs towards the front door.  Moko will then FLY down the stairs to retrieve the ball before racing back up the stairs.  This is the most effective option if you are trying to wear him out before bedtime.  The third option (and also the least appealing from Moko's view) is to ignore the ball.  He will either come down and retrieve it himself or he will look at you with a forlorn expression until you take pity on him and play.

While Stairball has taken up the majority of our time this weekend, there is one other behavior of Moko's that I find so fascinating, I have to mention it.  In Jill's detailed instructions, she told me to turn on the Golf Channel for Moko whenever I leave the house.  I thought this was sort of weird and assumed that Moko, like most dogs I've ever met, doesn't really watch TV but just likes the sounds and lights.  Oh boy, was I wrong.

This dog LOVES to watch golf.  He lays down on the bed in front of the TV, and when the golfer on screen takes a swing, he leaps to his feet and gasps.  If he has a ball or toy in his mouth he bites down and squeaks it.  He then lays back down and continues to watch.  I really wish I had a video camera to demonstrate it, because it is very cute.  Jill's husband loves to play golf, so I'm not sure how he instilled the love of the game in his dog, but it's definitely a sign that they were meant to be.

I also mentioned that I had to spend some time with my parents' dogs this weekend.  Now, I am far more familiar with their Jack Russell Terriers, but you would have a hard time finding dogs with more varying personalities.  For all the bad rap that JRTs get for being hyper, those two are more than happy to spend hours sleeping on a warm lap than playing endless games of Stairball.  While Moko definitely has his cuddly moments, he is obviously most happy when he is playing. 

Anyway, I am over halfway done with this dog adventure weekend as tomorrow is my last full day.  It has certainly been a learning experience in more ways than one, and I have a new respect for the time, energy and love that my friend and her husband have put into raising and training their dog.  Sadly, at present they are living apart due to a job location change and the fact that they are still trying to sell their house.  This means that my friend's husband is apart from his lovely wife during the week and apart from his dog even more than that.  While I love having them here in MN where I can visit with ease, I am praying that they will find a buyer so that they can be together again as a family in their new home. 

For those of you who may scoff at my taking time off of work to stay home with Moko, I challenge you to find time in your early mornings or evenings before and after work to address the pure energy that exists in a young Border Collie.  I consider it vacation time well-used.  And a good lesson in why I really do not have the time for my own dog just yet in my life - a very important lesson to remember as I find myself browsing animal shelter websites and yearning for my own little pup to come home to at night.

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