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Monday, April 03, 2006

Dog Question

I have a gorgeous yellow lab named Jake. He was at the SPCA when I found him four years ago. His family had surrendered him because they were moving; he was 18 months old. I am still amazed that they could part with him.

I've never had a dog quite this big before; he weighs around 80 pounds, I think. He's a yard dog by choice. He prefers to be outside. But he's a gentleman inside and loves to play fetch with a stuffed toy. I toss it four or five feet away and he leaps as if he's about to run half a block to catch a frisbee, then pounces on it, then returns it to me, as if this is the best game in the world, even though there is no room to actually run.

I love Jake.

And he evidently kinda likes me a bunch, too. When I take him to the dog park he ignores the other dogs, and just enjoys having a bigger space to play fetch in. Once I saw a woman watching me closely and watching Jake and I finally wondered if she knew Jake, or knew his old owners, so I walked near her, and she said, "Do you know that dog never takes his eyes off of you?" I said, "Oh, I guess that's because he's a rescue from the SPCA and maybe he is afraid I'll leave him here." She said, "No, it's more than that." We kept chatting and I don't recall what else was said, but I remembered it when I took Jake to obedience class a couple of years later and the instructor told me much the same thing, as if it was kind of unusual. So I guess he feels bonded to me, maybe because I'm the one who rescued him?

Okay, so here is my question.

Jake doesn't bark a lot. He has a big gorgeous deep bark and I think it would scare somebody if they tried to break into my house and heard it, but he doesn't use it often. Our other dog, the sweetheart Abby, barks a lot more. Jake will watch her bark but doesn't bother most of the time. Which is why when we hear HIM bark, we start looking out windows to see why. (It's usually because there's another dog going by, but sometimes because its' a person.) As for growling, that's exceedingly rare. He and Abby play a fairly rough game of "who can get to the ball first" fetch, which means if he gets it she attacks him as they run back to me, and because he's over twice her size she can do anything to him without him caring. A couple of times she's evidently crossed the line because I've heard a scary low grumbly growl and she immediately backs off.

So basically he's a big old goofball who loves to play more than anything, and nothing in the world seems to bother him, maybe because his size gives him such an advantage he doesn't ever have to assert himself.

So here's my question.

When he's in the house with me and somebody rings the doorbell or comes to the door, he doesn't notice. He doesn't bark.

Is this simply the way he is, end of story?

Is there a way to teach him to react when somebody is at the door?

Or should I be grateful he doesn't want to attack everyone who walks through the door. (Which is just funny, thinking of a labrador retriever attacking everybody, instead of just wanting to love them to death.)

One more thing. I did see him be protective -- once. When I'd only had him a couple of weeks. I took him and Abby to the dog park, and they acted pretty much the way they acted at home. Separately. He wandered around by himself and with me, while she dove head first into the middle of the other dogs to sniff butts and play.

Suddenly I heard some pretty vicious snarling and turned to see a dog attacking Abby. It was a nine-month-old pit bull mix whose owners had brought it to the dog park to learn how to interact with other dogs. They quickly pulled it off and there was no harm done -- no skin broken or anything -- but before I could get there, Jake had shot from the other end of the park to Abby's side. By that point it was over, but the two of them stuck together the rest of the time, doing what he wanted to do -- stick with me, and avoid the other dogs.

That was the day they bonded -- they've been best buddies and playmates ever since.

I have no idea whether he'd act to protect me or not. Maybe he's just totally nonviolent and he's not gonna care if strangers come into the house.

Maybe he's got that protective streak but it won't show up unless he thinks it's necessary, which clearly doesn't include people ringing the doorbell or knocking at the door.

I dunno.

Do you?


At 11:16 PM, Blogger Colleen Preston said...

Is there any chance that Jake is deaf? Or maybe just hard of hearing? I had a German Shepherd that behaved in a similar way and within a couple of years she was totally deaf. She watched my face constantly and seemed to be able to understand everything I said. She never barked when anyone came to the door but was very protective if she could see anything she perceived to be a problem.

At any rate, Jake's a treasure and you're lucky he picked you.

At 11:20 PM, Blogger pooks said...

That's an interesting thought. He's due a checkup at the vet -- I'll ask him about it.

Thanks for answering, and yes, I know I'm lucky. Very lucky!

At 11:38 PM, Blogger ronniebeegood said...

Look at the bright side. Our two dogs--male and female--would run to the door, try to wake up any neighbors foolish enough to try to sleep, scratch the varnish off the door if there was any left...then, when the door opened, streak past anyone, including, I'm sure, gun-toting masked buglars, and disappear with tails wagging to explore the neighborhood. I would spend the next three hours hunting them down and coaxing them into the car. At least Jake stands guard over the hearth and I'll bet he likes it there too. Besides, he looks like a handsome devil who doesn't have to show off!

At 5:21 AM, Blogger Candace said...

I was wondering about whether he was deaf, too.
Even so, considering how he came to Abby's aid (she's part of the pack and of course dogs are pack animals), I believe Jake would kill to defend you, or die trying.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger pooks said...

I'm thinking Jake isn't deaf. He howls when sirens howl, and he hears them before Abby does.

As for the front door, once I go to it to open it, if I didn't grab his collar he'd take off, too! "Out" is so much better than "in," you know.


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