When our daughters, Caroline and Katie, were four and one respectively, my mother gave me a diary for Christmas. With the gift came the instruction: “You have to write down all the funny things that the children say. Otherwise, you’ll forget.” For the next twelve years, a new diary arrived every Christmas, and dutifully, I wrote up the family activities at the end of each day. How wise my mother was, and what a treasure these entries have proved to be. Every so often, I drag one of the books out and have the family in convulsions over things the girls said or did when they were young. Some of the entries are things we remember, but often as not, they are things we have completely forgotten, once again proving that Mother knows best. And, of course, the diaries have proved invaluable for the dog blog, since Max’s earliest years are all on record. What is proving particularly fascinating, though, is that, with the power of hindsight, the early entries pack a lot more significance and make me realize how bad we were at understanding our new pet.
The truth was that Max’s alpha-male genes were starting to kick in, but we weren’t picking up the signs. To us, our kindly treatment of him was simply a natural way to behave with a household pet; to Max, it was interpreted to mean he was king of the household and we were his subjects. He liked to play rough, too. Balls and sticks were soon in shreds, and less than four weeks after Max came to live with us, we saw the first sign of aggression. Max had had a busy day. His morning walk had been short, which annoyed him. Later, Hugh and I dropped Caroline at the skating rink, and since Katie was playing with a friend, we went on to do some grocery shopping. Throughout all this, Max waited in the car, but he was visibly put out at the changes in routine. Once we were home and had unloaded the bags of food, the combination of Max’s sulks and our guilty consciences made us take him to the park, where he promptly decided it was his prerogative to let off steam. He became thoroughly naughty and boisterous, and when another dog tired of his wham-bam style of play and growled at him, Max flattened the dog and growled back in spades. Oh well, we thought. Boys will be boys.
Lesson not learned: Boys may be boys, but when they’re bad boys, rewarding the misbehavior doesn’t make them any better.
I was still determined to socialize Max with other people, and persevered with my efforts every time an opportunity presented itself. I introduced Max to my “I’d rather be sailing” mailman who decided he had David Bowie eyes. Instead of lunching with my friend, Pauline Clitheroe, after our weekly swim, I invited her back to our house so that she could meet Max. Pauline was a glamorous and clever friend from my teaching days. She was godmother to both of our girls, and had been well loved by George and Beanie. Pauline was an excellent teacher who stood no nonsense in class, and it was fun to see how Max took to her immediately, but behaved like a perfect little gentleman, shaking both paws and sitting nicely, as if he knew he was not allowed to be a class clown. Of course, with the children, his goofy side came to the fore, and when the girls had friends to play, I let him roar around the garden with them and join in the fun. He seemed to be coping well with canine-human interactions of every variety.
Soon came the day of my parents’ golden wedding anniversary. My father, typically, insisted that nothing special needed to happen to mark the occasion. However, we all felt that Mum deserved a gold medal for her fifty years of servitude, so we set off to surprise them with home-made cards, champagne, chocs, cashews and champagne glasses. The event turned into quite the party, because Katie’s godparents, Carla and Ron, appeared almost the moment we arrived; then my brother and his wife dropped in. Max was very well behaved, though we had to leash him when the food appeared or he would have demolished the plate of scones that my mother placed on the coffee table. Carla and Ron were much-loved family friends, but they were definitely not the Squire-Western-cuddling-with-his-dogs types like my father. Ron, who was a tall man with an imposing expression, declared Max a handsome dog, but one who needed to know his place. Throughout the visit, Ron would look sternly at Max and throw a command his way. Max seemed quite indifferent to this and merely looked the other way. After a while, he moseyed off to lie in the corner and went to sleep. I, misguidedly, interpreted this to mean he felt so secure within the family circle that he could handle visitors of every type, even those who didn’t gush over him and tell him how cute he was. My, but I was wrong, as we were to find out later.
Lesson not learned: When he looks the other way, beware.
The next few weeks were incredibly busy. We had decided to turn our marionette hobby into a performing company. Elwoodettes Marionettes was about to be born. However, taking on gigs for money was a far cry from doing shows on a volunteer basis. For one thing, instead of writing lyrics to established songs, I now had to compose the music for our shows. Babes in the Wood had to be adapted for a small team of puppeteers, and new shows were in the process of being created. There were sets to paint, scripts to write, and most challenging of all, soundtracks to be recorded. This all had to be fitted in around the girls extra-curricular classes in musical theatre, tap, skating and gymnastics, not to mention Caroline’s figure skating tests and competitions. I was still taking singing lessons, too, from the wonderful Luigi Wood, and we were all active with Vagabond Players, volunteering with front of house. Hugh was extremely busy, teaching full-time and making puppets when he came home from school. Max and I were walking regularly with Edna and Brandy, and on occasional weekends, we were also babysitting Spike, the resident gerbil, from Katie’s elementary-school class. How we kept Max from eating Spike, I cannot imagine, but we did manage to return him safely to the Grade 3 class on Monday mornings, so we must have had a system that worked.
I look back on that time and wonder how we did it. We were going flat out all the time, and the odd diary entry shows that everyone was feeling the pressure. Although we would be using a friend’s sound studio for the music recordings, we were recording dialogue at home, with, what I realize now, was very primitive equipment. At one point, during a long and arduous evening, a phone call disrupted a take. Caroline answered politely, but Katie, frustrated, roared over to the phone and bellowed, “Go Away!” into the receiver. Caroline cheerily reported that the real estate agent on the other end said, “All right,” and hung up. All this activity meant that Max was ignored for long stretches of time, especially when we began the studio sessions with our old friend, Gary Kehoe, or Black Bart as he was called on his country and western CD’s. Gary, who wrote and sang the hockey song that is played at Canuck games, was great fun to work with, and it was his introduction to the world of recording that inspired me to start thinking about setting up a studio of our own. But back to Max. Our first recording session with Gary turned out to be a very long day. Max wiggled with joy when we all returned home and behaved with perfect manners all through the following week. I failed to correctly interpret his return to good-as-gold mode, but in retrospect, I realize that it was the lack of attention and stimulation that turned him back from a wild-eyed tough guy into our ho-hum husky.
Lesson not learned: A bit of neglect and quiet time helped put Max in his place. Too much attention and security wasn’t good for an alpha male.
Katie was taking tap lessons at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts that year, so while she was in class, I would walk Max round Deer Lake. One day, we met two boisterous water dogs who swam in the creek and came out to shake, whereupon bone-dry Max who had watched from the bank, shook vigorously as well. As the other dog owner said, “Monkey see, monkey do!” When we’d all finished laughing, Max roared on ahead, miscalculated a jump and fell in the lake. Then he got to shake for real, but the expression on his face showed he was not impressed. The following day, he was around water again. Caroline had a skating competition in Coquitlam, so we got up early and took Katie and Max along for the ride. Once Caroline was settled at the rink, Katie and I walked Max along the bank of a surging river in the adjacent park. Max was nervous of the water, and I wondered if he was remembering falling in the lake the previous day. However, after Katie and I had watched Caroline’s competition, we went back to the car to get Max and repeated the walk with Caroline. This time round, Max displayed no nerves at all. He bounded along, causing me to be afraid that he’d land in the river and pull me in after him. He even tried to climb a tree while pursuing a squirrel.
Lesson not learned: With Max, familiarity bred contempt. Once he’d tackled a new experience without a problem, he assumed he was invincible.
Yes, we definitely misread a lot of Max’s signals. Twenty years and a lot of professional help later, I can see the significance of the behavior described in those diary entries, but then, as everyone knows, hindsight is always 20-20.
Next: Spring Break and Veterinarian Bills – Could there be a connection?