A little over a year ago I came home with an eight week old lab puppy called Horace and introduced him to Aggie, our wonderful Newfie, outside on the lawn under the apple tree. That first afternoon she bounded over to sniff and say hello. He took one look at the incoming black behemoth and ki-yiyed his heart out. Aggie was nonplussed and backed off right away. Gretchen Pinckel, Horrie’s wonderful breeder, had cautioned about rough play with Aggie while he was little. Just keep an eye on them, she said, nothing major, and so we did.
That afternoon and evening were pretty calm compared to one doggie merger I experienced 30 years ago. Standing on the family room sofa hugging my two children saying “it’s going to be fine, you’ll see” with two snarling and blood spattered dogs going at it below us. Of course it sounds worse than it was. We’d started outside calmly, but once inside Sherlock, our yellow lab, wasn’t thrilled that Kio, (a shepherd, lab husky mix) was there. Kio stood up for herself and nicked his ear (hence the spatters). After that first go-round of sorting things out they settled down and became devoted canine companions.
Back to our bit of heaven a year ago, and the puppy. That first week was a slam dunk, because once Aggie realized Horrie wasn’t leaving, she ignored him. Of course by then he wasn’t scared any more, in fact just the opposite. She certainly wasn’t mommy, but she was awfully cozy looking on her dog nest, or just snoozing in a cool corner. It took a week for him to be allowed to stretch out along side her on the flagstone platform out back. On the very edge. Lying exactly the way she was.
After that he wiggled his way closer, in every way possible. Aggie sat with him in his front yard pen. She did head play with him. He followed her everywhere. If she sat calmly outside, so did he. Out on walks he was right on her flank.
Pretty smooth sailing those first weeks, but not always. On Horrie’s first trip to the wetlands with Aggie and me, he followed her down the side of the earthen dam right into shoulder high mud before I could grab him. Aggs looked up at me as if to say “kids, they get into everything!” leaving it to me to toss my camera into the bushes, and slide down into the mud to pluck him out. This was pretty much her walk, her time with me and she kept pushing him into the deep road puddles just to prove it.
Since those early days though, Aggie has been wonderful with him, has been his nana dog. She has put up with his puppy wrestling, his stealth attacks out on walks, his curling up beside her whenever possible, his tugging and chewing when they play. And, she has taught him how a Newfie behaves. I look out the kitchen door to see them sitting together, quietly surveying the hill below to the drive and our woods. In the car too, she looks out calmly at the world, and so does he. We’re not talking a complete Newfie lobotomy, more like a Lab with a Newf veneer. He has learned to take many aspects of doggie life as they come, a real gift.
At 15 months, Horrie is pretty independent from Aggs out on our walks. He does his own Hound of the Baskervilles imitation if he thinks there are creatures in our woods that shouldn’t be there, taking that duty over from Aggie once his bark dropped. He does all the usual Labbish things: finding and eating the most revolting things possible (the worst was a partially rotted frog out on a hike last year), retrieving for as long as he can get us to throw for him, giving that wonderful Lab snuffle of delight, settling at my feet under the table as I write, keeping me company. He is a very smart boy, eager to learn, eager to work.
As he grew this first year, Horrie gave Aggie a gift too. He became her work. I didn’t realize until recently what this did for her. She came from a breeder where she was one of several Newfies, with lots of other dogs around, and while she seemed happy, quiet with us at times, playful at others, it wasn’t clear to me how much she had let go of. Now it seems obvious that she was lonely for day to day dog companionship, being part of a pack again.
These days she romps and plays with Horrie and with us. She is the first one out the door for squirrel patrol in the mornings, often first to the oak tree as the gray squirrels scramble up beyond reach. At the pond, she is swimming more aggressively (an early fall into deep water left her hesitant to strike out on her own) and one day amazed me by going out with Horrie after his water toy. So she gets her own tosses, not so far out that she is in deep water, but out she does go. Sort of like watching the Queen Mary pull away from the dock, very stately and steady.
This fall, Horrie will continue his obedience training with three other dogs, for show competition. Early days yet, but it’s obvious that this is his work, what he loves to do. And Aggie? She has been going with Geoff to work on Saturdays, an unofficial therapy dog along on wheel chair hikes with a client who loves having her along, holding her leash, and doesn’t mind Newfie drool. I hope to expand this to proper Therapy Dog training as soon as she gets her CGC. That should be a snap after taking on Horace, right? We’ll see.