Carol Reiter: Just what is it that makes for a good dog?

August 15, 2009 

CAROL REITER

What is a good dog?

Is it a dog that does everything you tell it? A dog that is easy to live with, doesn't eat bananas and yogurt (are you listening, Len?), a dog that protects you from harm?

A good dog is different things to different people. I've known some good dogs, I actually had a couple (present dogs totally excluded).

But how do those dogs end up to be good? Are they born that way? Or does it make a difference who their owner is?

I was thinking about good dogs the other night after Moss chewed the entire cover and first chapter of the book I was reading to shreds. Peg had spent the previous hour barking like a banshee because she was locked in a crate and I was outside without her. And Len had found an old bone in the yard and was guarding it like Fort Knox, growling at the other dogs and generally being a big grump.

I was thinking that night that the best dog I ever had was Mick. He was devoted to me, he minded, and he was easy to live with.

But while I was thinking about good dogs, I realized that Ty, Mick's son, was the best dog I've ever known.

Why was he so good? He had some good breeding, but it was more than that.

It was his owner.

Yep, it's hard for me to admit it, but most of my dogs' badness is because of me. I didn't stop it in the beginning, and every time that Len eats something I don't want him to have, it reinforces his belief that he can eat anything he wants.

So why was Ty's owner the difference between Ty being a good dog or a bad dog? She loved her dog fiercely, and of course that makes a difference, but she also made him mind her. She took him with her everywhere, he partied with her, he slept where she crashed, and he rode proudly in the back of her little truck.

Ty was my friend's shadow. He got miles put on him when she was working for a horse trainer, and he was her shadow. And he learned to be a great cattle trial dog by only working sheep at home.

Ty got started in trials, where dogs have to move cattle from a pasture, into an arena, through a chute and into a trailer, when we met a great trainer named Al. He told my friend that Ty was a good dog, he listened to her, and he was tough enough to trial.

So she trialed him. And she did great. She was young, with long blond hair and baggy clothes, and she whipped the pants off of some of the best stock dog trainers around. Trainers who had been working and training dogs for years, the so called 'big hats' of dog trials.

One trial I will never forget, even though I wasn't there. There was a working dog clinic on a Saturday, and then a trial on Sunday. My friend entered Ty in the trial because Al had called from Northern California and told her he was coming and he wanted her to compete. So she did.

Then she took Ty to the clinic the day before.

The trainer who gave the clinic wasn't the sharpest tack in the world, and after Ty bit him when the trainer grabbed Ty by the scruff of the neck, that great trainer told my friend that her dog wasn't ready to work cattle in this trial.

So she told me she wasn't going to compete, even though she had entered her dog. I kept my mouth shut -- it was her decision. The day of the trial, she called and told me she was going, did I want to go. My sister was visiting, and I asked my friend if she was going to run her dog. No, she said. He's not good enough. I told her I was going to stay home and visit with my sister, and she headed off to the trial.

Luckily she took Ty. Al told her to enter, but she said no. Then the trainer, the man who had told her that her dog wasn't good enough, saw her sitting with Al and her dog. He stopped, and said 'You're not running him, are you?' She said no, and he said 'Good, that dog's no trial dog.'

That did it.

She put Ty in that trial, on a hot day when other dogs quit, and the only dog that beat her was Al's. She beat that trainer, his wife, and a bunch of other 'big hats'. She ended up second out of more than 20 dogs, winning money and the silhouette of a border collie, something I still treasure, for her second place finish. It gave her a huge boost of confidence, and she and Ty went on to trial many more times.

Unfortunately for us, dogs don't live as long as we do, and although Ty lived 15 years, it was far, far too short of a time. He was an indispensible friend, a dog that came to untold obedience classes and even won some awards at obedience trials. He and his father, Mick, were our go-to dogs for dog class, and no matter what, Ty never made a bobble.

And when my friend's son was born, Ty had a new best friend. One of my favorite pictures is of a little boy with a big smile and crinkled-up eyes, and a gray-faced dog. Both are sitting on a bright green lawn, and smiling at the camera. It was just a few years before Ty died, but he could still jump for a ball, and fiercely protect his little boy.

Ty has been gone for a couple of years, and I miss him every day. I miss his dad, and his mom, too, but Ty was such a fixture in our lives that he couldn't help but leave a huge hole in our hearts.

I know that Ty was such a great dog partly because of his breeding, but mostly because of his owner. She loved her dog, but she also trained him, and got after him when he was wrong, and made sure that he ended up a good dog.

And I think that's what most of us want. A good dog. For those of us who are lucky enough to have had one, it's a great feeling. There aren't a lot of dogs like Ty, or a lot of owners like his. But I was lucky enough to have both of them in my life, and for that I am blessed.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com

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