Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Management by Sassy

Sassy is signaling me for her morning walk.
I must answer or get into trouble with her.

Everyone loves Sassy, so I decided to describe how she carefully manages our behavior and displays a remarkable amount of intelligence, independence, and humor.

Sassy supervises all meal preparation, but only when it concerns her. No matter what order I prepare the breakfast, she appears for the cutting of the brats or the melting of the cheese. She sits there with the assumptive close, as they call it in sales. She assumes I will give her some. And I do.

Sometimes we work on threat gestures. I learned early that my intruder pose would get her leaping up and grabbing my hand. Simply by grazing my hand in a fast-moving gesture, she opened up a wound with her teeth. I was dodging without success, and I stopped. The blood stopped soon, and I did not try that again.

Sassy has assumed the role of protecting our yard from a wandering black lab. The neighboring dogs bark at the intruder walking down the grassy alley between our homes. They are large and muscular, but seem helpless. Sassy always asks to go out and take care of the lab. She goes to the fence and does her best German Shepherd attack. She plants her front legs down, barks and snarls furiously, displaying her teeth and moving her head back and forth close to the ground.  The lab takes off and the neighbor dogs bark impotently at him in a me too response.

Sassy even barked the lab out of our neighbor's yard, but the lab got its hind leg stuck up in the wire fence. Black labs matter, so I called Animal Control and got the dog freed in a few minutes. Unharmed and clueless, it came back to the same yard an hour or two later.

We have always worked on the gentle command with Sassy, and she is great responding. When I pretend to form a claw coming down on her flank, she bares her teeth menacingly. But she cannot hold her fierce pose for long, it turns into a grin. She loves the game. She has the fast motions of a Cattle Dog and snaps at my hand with incredible speed - always to lick my hand.

Sacky was our first Cattle Dog. Sacky could kiss my bare feet alternately as I walked, but never while I was looking. I never figured out how she could do that. To illustrate her speed, she simply snapped all houseflies out of the air in Phoenix.

Sassy and I walk twice a day, and she is keen to remind me when the sun is up or going down. I tired of the leash and she was quick to learn commands - wait, leave alone, cross the street, and so forth.
I can wiggle one finger and get her to run full speed at me, both of us grinning. She has to ask permission to cross the street or go meet someone. She has learned not to bark loudly in greeting adults and children. However, one friend loves her happy bark, so she lets loose when she hears, "Where is that happy bark, Sassy?" Left and right, she barks as loudly as she can.

However, Sassy's great response and intuition are tempered by her independent spirit. She loves to walk south down the side streets when we are walking west down Scott Street. Once she asked permission to cross the street and go farther down Scott. When I said yes, she darted left and ran about 20 feet south down the side street. Then she stopped and looked back, grinning. I said, "OK, let's go down that street." She pranced into each yard, catching up on all the signals left by other animals.

When one woman suggested that Sassy leave her front-yard family gathering, with Sassy meeting each child, Sassy responded by going to the woman, laying down her ears and reaching out for a final petting. The woman could not help laughing as everyone enjoyed Sassy trumping her ace. Sassy lays down her ears and reaches out in meek and friendly gesture that no one can miss.

Sassy's goal is to meet each person on our walks. She went up to one man, who said, "Oh, Sassy, you are the dog that loves everyone."

Sassy loves treats: she remembers and counts, always pushing for a greater number at any given time. One treat means two would be better. Two is the norm and three would be nice, as the dessert. The vet suggested breaking treats into small pieces so Sassy could get the count up with fewer calories.

Sassy likes to take one more trip outside once I am settled in bed to sleep. My transition from writing and grading to sleep is quick and easy to make. The bed is the best chair I have used for the painful process of grading 25 essays at a time.

To get Sassy outside before I am nodding off,  I have tried various things, such as snapping my fingers. I even dragged her off  the bed gently - and she crawled back. I used a snack once to get her up and out and another small one to reward her coming inside. After that happened once or twice,  I invited her in. She stopped in the kitchen and glared at me. "Where is treat #2?"

Talking and Singing - The Tell-Tale Tail
Sassy has many ways to talk. She uses her Cattle Dog (kelpie) voice at times. If she yips a little, I ask, "Are you going full kelpie on us?" Then she yips in that high-pitched wild dingo voice of hers, and we laugh.

She is great at singing along, as she did when we sang Happy Birthday to grandson Alex.

The ears, face, and tail are part of her signals. She may make a little whining noise for a moment. We look and ask, "What's wrong?" Her tail rotates slowly. That means she needs a treat or a walk. If I delay or miss the signal, she rotates rapidly and with great force. That can include whipping my arm as I work. Her tails is soft, but the perpetual rotation makes work impossible.

If that fails, she uses her powerful claws to pull me down on the bed for lovey time.

The rotating tail is often paired with her stupid dog look. Sacky pulled that on me too, to show how clueless I was.

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