Happy Birthday, Roe

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Has it seriously been a year? Tomorrow I’ll no longer have a puppy, but another dog. It feels like just yesterday I was getting the pictures of the two little black otters, not knowing which would grow up to be my Schipperke.

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He’s a connoisseur of food, and I’ve yet to find something he won’t eat. Lettuce, oranges, cilantro, he likes it all. If I need to keep him occupied in the yard I just pick him something from the garden. He’s especially fond of radish thinnings and kale stems.

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I won’t pretend it’s been sunshine and rainbows. Despite our careful planning choosing our year to add a puppy, life doesn’t always follow the plan and 2018 ended up not an easy year. Between Suki’s illness and everything else, sometimes I felt like I didn’t have the time, energy, or brainpower left to give Roe what he deserved. Sometimes he frustrated me, and I think I frustrated him sometimes. I’ve loved him unconditionally from the moment I saw his photos, but I haven’t always liked him every moment of this past year. And there were a few times where he looked me in the eye, barked, and slammed me with both front paws because I just couldn’t figure out what he needed. But it isn’t the easy stuff that makes us better trainers and dog owners. We figure each other out a little better every day.

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One thing I’ve learned through this year is that if he’s acting out, it’s because he’s overwhelmed or frustrated. If I can solve the source of his frustration, or calm him, he’s absolutely amazing. When I’m at my computer he’ll nap on one of the dog beds or quietly play with his toys. He is generally nondestructive to everything but paper and cardboard.

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He’s learned my hand signal for “may I pick you up?” (both arms slightly outstretched, palms up) and will walk up to me and turn around, my dog’s way of indicating to me that they want to be held. Then when held he’ll often rest his head on my shoulder.

He has the most expressive eyebrows of any dog I’ve ever met. He furrows them, raises them, and twirls them around.

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With independent breeds like terriers and most spitz I often hear they respond to training with a “what’s in it for me?” approach, and a lot of people describe Schipperkes that way too. I don’t get that with my dogs though. Not quite anyway. Roe isn’t truly willful, he’s actually extremely biddable, but he also doesn’t just blindly bow to authority either. When he questions, when he doesn’t listen, it isn’t so much “what’s in it for me” as it is a simple “why?” And if I can explain the why to him, he’s more than happy to comply. I’ve described the relationship with a Schipperke as being a partnership, and Roe’s only further reinforcing that idea. You get back exactly what you give.

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We had to keep him leashed in the yard for the first few weeks because, as we discovered the hard way, he could squeeze through the squares. I was following him around taking photos. He stopped the sniff the fence then, pop, half of him was on the other side and I’d barely had to time to grab him around the middle.

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That’s what he’s like though. He notices the tiny details, and if he wants something or to go somewhere good luck stopping him.

When I first took him rock scrambling I thought he was a “leap before you think” kind of dog and that he compensated for it by being fast and nimble on his feet. Then I saw him approach an obstacle he wasn’t sure of. He waited, watched Suki do it, then copied her. I think he takes most obstacles in rapid fire not because he’s making it up as he goes along, but because his brain just works that fast. Schipperkes are very smart. Roe is smart in a way I didn’t know dogs could be. He looks at flags, he watches birds and planes in the sky that are just tiny specks, and he knows if someone is looking at him from across the street. Thinking in abstract ways comes naturally to him. When he was trying to chew the plastic nose off a Rudolph toy I put it on top the television to keep it out of his reach. He eyed it up for a few seconds, then ran around the corner, up the stairs, and knocked it off through the stair railing. And it was then that I realized he was smarter than me.

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When Suki was little I had no clue about things going wrong. Green fractures, growth plates, fear periods… Cranial cruciate ligement ruptures? With Roe I started out armed with a puppy exercise chart that tells you the perfect amounts of activity for their stage of growth. The problem is that dogs don’t read. Or in Roe’s case, maybe he does and that’s the problem. The chart says 6 months is when you have to really start to worry about green fractures because puppies are big and coordinated enough to start jumping on the couch. Roe laughed and started jumping onto and off of the back of the couch at 4 months old. Like, jumping straight up from behind the couch onto the backrest and then vaulting off over the front. He also laughed at the other exercise restrictions, called those a warm-up, and did a perfect swimmer’s turn off the center of the front door because he was so excited to go for a walk. You shouldn’t teach puppies to back up because walking backwards is an awkward movement and can be straining on unclosed growth plates. That’s supposed to be an easy one to follow, because walking backwards isn’t supposed to be something that comes naturally to dogs. Again, he laughed and ran straight backwards across the living room just because he could. What I’m saying is that he’s difficult in the best kind of way.

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Despite his refusal to follow the chart he turned out fine. No breaks, no ligament ruptures, no permanent disfigurement. I’m still waiting a little longer just to be sure his growth plates are indeed closed, but him and I are going to start the couch to 5k this year and maybe get into canicross.

My heart is made of dog hair. And my lungs. Those are probably made of dog hair now too.

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Happy first birthday, Roe. I’m excited to see where this year takes us.

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