Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, October 16, 2008

(Some Of) Benny's Eccentricities

Near the beginning of my book (which I hardly mention anymore even though Christmas is coming and it still makes for a spiffy gift) I discuss the importance of learning to think like a fish.

Learning to think like something different from yourself is the key to understanding any living creature and if you want to catch, raise, or co-exist with one, it helps greatly to understand it. Luckily, fish aren’t all that clever and it only took me a few decades to figure them out. Well, to mostly figure them out. In a way.

Regular readers know I am a devout disciple of Yogi Berra and my doorway to understanding was via his wise counsel: You can observe a lot just by watching. (By the way, none of this accrued wisdom applies to women. They remain unfathomable despite a lifetime of observation.)

For the last year or so, I’ve been watching Benny pretty closely and I’ve arrived at a deeper understanding of dogs in general and insane Jack Russell Terriers in particular. Perhaps “insane” is too strong a word. Let’s go with “eccentric.”

Are you familiar with the TV show Monk? For those who aren’t, Monk (brilliantly portrayed by Tony Shalhoub) is a detective who is plagued by an extreme case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If something is unclean, untidy, uneven, or even a micron out of place, he becomes very upset until it is made right.

Otherwise he’s pretty normal.

Ben is like that. He’s a happy-go-lucky, friendly pup as long as things are normal - by his definition. He only barks at things that are Wrong and I am learning, via him, about more and more Wrong things.

People who don’t do what they’re supposed to do are Wrong. For instance, this may include people who are standing still when Ben thinks they should be walking. Let’s say someone is ahead of us while we’re walking. No problem. But suppose that person stops to tie a shoelace. Ben may well decide that a previously-walking-now-bent-over person is Wrong and deserves a good barking.

People riding bicycles used to be Wrong until he saw enough of them to accept their existence with a token chase. However, people standing beside, or walking a bicycle, are obviously Very Wrong. They are not doing what people with bicycles are supposed to do and it’s his job to alert those nearby to that fact.

Statues are all pretty much Wrong because they’re very stiff people who aren’t even displaying the minimum movement required by tying shoelaces. Plus, I suspect they don’t smell right either.

He decided early on that shovels are Wrong. Son #1 often exercises Ben in the backyard by standing in the centre of the yard while holding a shovel and pointing it at him. Ben goes into a frenzy of running in circles around the offending shovel. #1 need only pivot slowly, shovel extended, while Benny tears up the turf around him until exhausted. It’s kind of like operating one of those remote-controlled planes - just point and watch it go until it crashes.

On our walks, we often meet other folks walking their pooches. In most instances, this is a happy occurrence for Ben as he loves his fellow canines. But every once in a while he would growl and/or bark at an inoffensive mutt who just wanted a sniff or two. I was puzzled as such behaviour was quite unlike him.

Then, after the fourth or fifth time it happened, I realized that each of the dogs that set him off was wearing one of those Halti collars that wrap around the nose instead of the neck. Obviously Haltis are Wrong. At least now I can explain to some folks why he’s being an idiot: “Yeah, sorry. But it’s your own fault. You got the wrong collar for your dog.”

Eventually, I’m pretty sure he’ll figure out that most of these things are actually okay. For quite some time he considered a child on all fours, or sitting on the ground, to be another dog. He would prance around, forepaws down and bum high, barking and nipping at loose clothes, encouraging this new “puppy” to play. That was a nerve-wracking few months I’ll tell ya. (Especially for new Mom, Erin.) We still need to keep a close watch on him when very wee ones are about, lest he regress.

But most of his eccentricities are benign and once understood, quite easily accepted. At his core, he’s a regular pooch, wanting only to be with his people (his pack), play, eat, sleep, and roll in rotting flesh, preferably fish. If, from time to time, he also indulges in somewhat eccentric behaviour, well really, what’s the harm?

Some might even say, if they saw his keeper standing on one leg while talking to a Great Blue Heron or picking up wayward snails off the sidewalk, he comes by it honestly.

If they said it to my face though, I’d probably have to bark at them.


Most of you who visit my blog (as opposed to reading the emailed version) are also regular visitors to Hilary's. However, if you're not, and would like to see videos and pictures of Ben (as well as other terrific photos and commentary) please pay her a visit. You'll find two recent videos of Ben on her October 5th and 15th posts at: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/


Shammickite said...

Nice description of what may or may not go on inside a Jack Russell brain. Now have a go at psychoanalysing my grandpuppy who is a demented golden doodle... 3/4 standard poodle and 1/4 golden retriever. I blog about her antics every so often, and she lives in B'ville so you may meet her one day. If you come across a young couple trying to control a long-legged fluffy yellow greyhound shaped puppy bouncing in the air.... that'll be her!

Hilary said...

That's pretty much Benny in a nutshell and yet, between the two of you, he's hardly the eccentric one. That's why you're a great team. It's a good thing I balance the two of you out with normalcy...


Thanks for the linkage. :)

Reb said...

Oh, I love Monk! Haltis are great for training, but some people seem to think they are for life. See Benny knows what is wrong, let him keep barking at them.

Frank Baron said...

Oodles of Doodle eh, Shammi? I'll keep my eyes open. :)

Hahaha Hil. "Normal." Hahahaha! That's funny. :)

I have a hunch he will, Reb. At least for some time yet. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Anonymous said...

Somehow, I understand dogs so much better now!
There is a funny book out there, called "I, Dog" or something like that...from some British author...about a golden retreiver or maybe a golden lab...(I really should get on Google and give you the actual information, shouldn't I?) Anyhoo, your tales of Benny remind me of that book.

Which also reminds me I need to investigate buying your fishing book for my nephew!

Anonymous said...

Okay, it took me a few minutes: the book is called "I, Jack"
here is a link:

Frank Baron said...

Thanks kcinnova. I'll check it out. Pets and kids sure provide great material. :)

Dianne said...

I saw the videos at Hil's place! Each time I think I couldn't possibly be more in love with Benny - well I am!

I love all his 'Wrongs' and I think he makes perfect sense.

Eccentric is a wonderful think to be!!

I'm thinking Benny should write a book about life as Benny. Perhaps you could help him with that.

Frank Baron said...

Hmmm...food for thought, Dianne. I'll run it by Benny and see what he thinks. Thanks for the visit. :)

I'm going away for a couple of days so if any other kind folks comment in the meantime, please forgive my late replies.

Real Live Lesbian said...

I came from "over there" where Benny's the star of the day! I love JRTs...but my grandfather always said you should be smarter than your dog.

MagnoliaGirl said...

Hiya Frank,

Sorry for not chiming in lately....been dealing with a very sick mother and fighting with doctors and a brother...fun stuff!

Always enjoy romping with you and Benny on the page!


Travis Erwin said...

I enjoy reading about and seeing Benny's exploits.

Frank Baron said...

In an ideal world, I'd agree with granddad, rll. I think Benny and I are equally smart but in different ways. I help him decide when it's safe to cross the road and he gives me a hand when I'm stuck on a crossword puzzle. It evens out. ;)

Thanks for the visit. :)

I was starting to worry some about you MG. I'll keep your Mom in my thoughts. Please drop me a line to keep me updated.

Thanks Travis. I appreciate it. :)

Suldog said...

Heh. Benny is a hoot! I love it when he shows up in the shots over at Hilary's.

You asked, at my place, about the NHL. I more-or-less dropped the league from my radar after the "lost season". I was a huge Bruins fan in my youth. Boston was hockey mad during that time, what with Orr, Esposito, Sanderson, Cheevers, et al. I continued enjoying them when others fell by the wayside - some very lean years lately, by NHL standards - but when the season was canceled, I found that I had more than enough other things to occupy my time. Patriots and (especially) Celtics more than take up the slack for me during winter.

I still love the sport, though. I enjoy going to a Lowell AHL game once in a great while, or Worcester, Springfield, or another minor-league game. The game itself is magnificent. I also greatly enjoy watching Olympic hockey when it happens every four. I'm just not a major disciple of the NHL any longer.

Thanks for asking!

Kappa no He said...

I like the idea of shovel wrongness. Also, people who stop in front of you. Benny is one wise pup!

Frank Baron said...

I hear you Suldog. I turned my back on hockey for a couple of years after the lost year. The game was damaged in many ways. But I am, after all, a Canuck and the game is in my blood.

Terrie, Benny's been called a lot of things in his young life but I think you're the first to use "wise." ;)