I miss my dog.

Of all the things to miss when away from home for 2 months, I miss my dog, the eponymous Fiona of this website. I anticipated this reaction before I left and everyone to whom I expressed my anxiety missed the point and told me how happy Fiona would be while staying with my dear friends Sally and Bob. Of course she will be happy there; it’s dog heaven at their house where Bob actually braised beef tips for her and Sally caters to her every whim. Sally and Bob often take care of Fiona when we are out of town and even host her for sleepovers when we’re not away. When Sally or Bob visit us, Fiona displays an embarrassing desire to leave with them that includes following them anxiously to the door and barking hysterically when it is clear she is stuck with us. Sally claims that Fiona just likes to go for a ride, but I don’t know if that’s true, so I’m going to make my case and you decide.

Here’s the difference between Sally and me. I have had a dog for much of my life and Sally, well, she’s really never had a dog so she treats Fiona like a little person, an intelligent little person. This seems to be very effective and requires long explanations from Sally while Fiona cocks her head and clearly pays close attention. Sally takes Fiona to visit friends, to church, to places of business, and to the homes of other people. We take Fiona to the back yard. When Sally has people over or takes Fiona on a visit, she explains (to the dog) what will happen and describes her expectations for Fiona’s behavior. We say “no!” a lot. It was Sally who bought a car seat for Fiona (although we use it, too) and accurately pointed out that a 9 lb. dog becomes a 9 lb. projectile when one slams on the brakes.

Our style of training also differs. When Fiona was very young, about 10 weeks old, I took her to dog training at PetSmart. This is perhaps the only smart thing I’ve done with regards to my dog because she was socialized early and as a result loves other dogs. She didn’t learn anything during the first class and spent the entire time jumping on her hind legs, clearly thrilled about the other 9 dogs. After 2 classes, the very nice trainer (Chris) called and suggested that Fiona start the class over with a smaller group (4 dogs); we wouldn’t be charged….

Mike and I found it hysterical that our dog was “held back.” At the end of the class, Chris suggested that Fiona repeat the beginning class before moving on to Intermediate. I guess I don’t need to mention that she didn’t receive a diploma, just a certificate of participation. Let me paint a picture of what it was like to work with Fiona. There is a thing (an idea, a concept, a dream) called “loose leash walking.” The idea is that the dog will walk before you without pulling on the leash. Chris instructed us to stop and make the dog sit every time she strained on the leash. After 15 minutes Fiona and I had progressed about a foot and a half. This is because Fiona has ADHD and is easily distracted, by everything. Do you know how many things there are to sniff at PetSmart? Besides the other dogs and the aisles filled with tantalizing and frequently smelly products, there were the random pieces of paper on the floor, which commanded all of her attention. I’m not kidding. Even Chris with her puppy crack (Pupperoni) couldn’t get the little girl to focus.

Enter Sally.

While Mike and I traveled across country in Fall 2012, Sally took Fiona to another puppy class where, apparently, she was the star pupil or at least earned a diploma this time. Mike thinks I’m crazy but I think the difference comes down to the way Sally interacts with Fiona. It’s not unusual to hear Sally talking to Fiona in a reasonable and measured tone. “Fiona, I”m taking you to County Schools tomorrow to see some people for Valentine’s Day. You’ll be wearing your red sweater and everyone is going to love seeing you. We’re walking there to bring Valentine cookies and I need you to be on your best behavior, no barking or whining.” And it works. Every time.

At a very basic level, Sally “gets” Fiona. She (Sally) thinks about what it must be like to weigh 9 lbs., although she usually weighs closer to 10 after a sojourn at Sally and Bob’s House of Treats. Anyway, Sally understands that the “heel” command is threatening to Fiona because no one has her back. (When Fiona walks in front of you, she tilts her ears back so she knows–at all times–what you’re up to behind her.) Sally also understood that Fiona was bored with the routines at the class she took her to last spring. It was a field events class or something (I can’t remember) and Fiona checked out half way through going through a tube. If this sounds a little like parents who attribute their children’s inattention/misbehavior in class to poor teaching, boredom, and not being challenged, I can’t help that. Our dog is gifted.

Tonight Fiona and Sally start their new class–an intermediate good citizen dog class–I kid you not. Fiona may have to do some remediation in heeling but I have no doubt Sally is up to the task. As always, they will have a great time together and I’m so fortunate to have friends who love Fiona and take such great care of her. I often say if were a better person, I would give Fiona to Sally. I say it but I don’t do it.

And I’m happy (really I am) that Fiona is so happy and well cared for. Still–I miss her. And in some ways, this surprises me because Fiona is not the perfect dog. The perfect dog was Molly, our 14 year old lab who died 4 months before I bid on Fiona at an auction (I couldn’t help it–she kept looking at me). Molly was a dog’s dog–loyal, affectionate, attentive, and low maintenance. Fiona is a person in the body of an adorable little dog; she is headstrong, persnickety, and smarter than anyone at our house. When I call her (“Fiona, come!”), I can see her considering it. Is it worth it? she wonders; will there be a treat or is this a ruse? Fiona is a picky eater who demands variety. Of course whatever I’m eating has her interest. Fiona does not like to walk in the rain or strong winds. She insists on a minimum of 10 minutes of slowly meandering and sniffing at the beginning of any outing. She enjoys doing the “worm” on the pavement, clearly channeling her inner aerobics instructor. Fiona’s outraged barking follows any person who leaves the house without taking her. In fact, outraged barking is her response to anyone walking or driving by the house and neighbor cats or squirrels cavorting in the yard. Hysterical, frothing at the mouth barking is her reaction to the mailman, UPS truck, and FedEx. What can I say? She’s complicated.

So back to the beginning of this overlong paean to the little girl, the baby dog, the pupska, Miss Fi. I miss her little warm body at the foot of my bed and the cursory lick she gives me when I come home. I miss the grateful licking that follows my providing a wonderful meal or helping her stop doing that choking thing. I miss the way she suffers my affection when I can’t sleep and waits for me to nod off before she returns to her blanket at the end of the bed. I miss the way she prefers my husband, jumping off my lap the minute he shows up and throwing me a triumphant and possessive look when she works her way between us and claims Mike. I miss the way she objects to people hugging (maybe it’s too California for her). Most of all I miss her willingness to hang out and just be.

Little dog

Little dog

The Contemplative Fiona

The Contemplative Fiona

You talkin' to me?

You talkin’ to me?

Got a bone and a sweater for my birthday

Got a bone and a sweater for my birthday

Guarding the bones buried under the tree skirt

Guarding the bones buried under the tree skirt

Breakfast was acceptable

Breakfast was acceptable

The Worm

The Worm

Kicking back in the carseat

Kicking back in the carseat

Favorite toy--the hedgehog

Favorite toy–the hedgehog

Halloween: Angry Tinkerbelle

Halloween: Angry Tinkerbelle

Not leaving without Fi

Not leaving without Fi

Not napping, just thinking

Not napping, just thinking

Baby Fiona

Baby Fiona

Molly, the perfect dog

Molly, the perfect dog