Sunday, January 15, 2023
A Clippin' and a Whippin' for Max
This past week I finally got around to giving Max, the 90 lb Labradoodle, a “clipping and a whipping” as we refer to it here. Before any animal rights people get after me, we don’t actually whip our animals. It is just the opposite. Let me explain.
Max is our 4 year old crazy and loveable mutt. Yes I call him my mutt. He has no fancy papers with his lineage, no crowns of reigning champions in any of his relatives. He is just Max, the mutt. And probably one of the best dogs I’ve ever had in my life. Not only is he a handsome (well at least in the eyes of the beholder) furry and curly haired “designer dog” , he is a supportive and gentle giant of a friend.
We got Max about 4 years ago from a farm up North of us. They had a litter of Labradoodle pups that were about 10 weeks old. I had contacted the owner and asked if I could come out and see his puppies. So we drove North a bit and came upon a litter of squiggly, furry puppies in all colors. There were cream colored ones, tan ones, and merle looking ones. All with beautiful curly fur and unique colors. They all came bounding out of the house through their “doggie door” and ran over to us. The last one out was a dorky looking black puppy with wiry fur and a white spot on his chest. He ambled up to me and kind of reminded me of that old cartoon character Baby Huey. He was big and goofy looking and oh so attentive to us compared to the other pups. He interested me and so along with the other pups I watched him and how he fit himself in the litter pecking order. He wasn’t really at the top or at the bottom of the pecking order. He just was there amidst the other 8 puppies. But he kept coming over to me and looking up as if to beg me to pick him up. So I knelt down by him to see what he would do. While all the other pups were busy sniffing around or following the mama dog, this pup just sort of hung out and sat by me while I petted him and messed with his head and ears and back legs and rolled him over to scruff his belly. Nothing I did got him excited or scared. He just went along with what I was doing without fear or any hesitation at being handled. He was definitely piquing my interest. Until I asked the price and about fell over in amazement at the cost of a lab/poodle mixed breed dog. While I was expecting to pay for a puppy, I never realized that the designer dogs were going for the same or more than a registered AKC purebred canine.
Our plan when we were looking for another dog was to train it as a hearing dog for my Best Half. His Australian Shepherd, Rainey at the time was 10 and slowing down a bit. I like to train dogs for a purpose and a job and Rainey was rescued from an Aussie rescue place when she was a pup. She was smart and caught on quickly at how to become the “ears” for my Best Half. By the time she was 2, she was going with him when I couldn’t and warning him of cars coming up behind him and of people calling out his name. She was good at keeping him safe. And my thought was to get a puppy and start training it to follow in Rainey’s paws and become a hearing dog and hopefully the pup would be ready about the time Rainey was ready to retire in a couple years.
I told the owner of the litter of pups what my intentions were with a new pup and after visiting for a while, we came to a good and affordable price for a pup. The owner of the litter was willing to let me find a pup for a much less and affordable price. But he had to weed out the pups he knew people would pay more money for. The ones basically that were really curly and had color in their coats. So that left 2 little black pups. I watched the two pups a bit longer as they played and wandered around the farm. Eventually I knelt down and gave a squeaky kiss to them both. And only one wiry haired black pup with a white spot on his chest came running and landed in my arms. That pretty much sealed the deal after calling him to me a few more times. And that is how Max came to be with us.
The next few months training Max were pretty interesting. Max came home with us and fit in quite well with the other 2 dogs, Rainey and Zoe. He ran around the farm and field with the other 2 and always came running when we called for him. I took him to obedience classes for a few months to get him around lots of other dogs and commotion and watched him do pretty much anything I would ask of him. But every time I would ask him to sit or stay or go into a down position…well let’s just say, he had to take several seconds to think about it and process it. Kind of like he was checking around to see if there was a better deal out there than what I was asking.Unlike Rainey, who would use turbo speed to follow directions, Max was quite a bit slower on the uptake. When I would ask him to sit he would appear to weigh his options and then finally sit. While he was and still is an incredibly obedient dog, he always needs to think a few moments before he responds. You see Max’s personality is really laid back and mellow. Not much will rile him. He just like to process his options.
After several months of working with Max to come and sit and go into a down position, his speed just didn’t improve. No amount of treats or praise from us humans could get him moving any faster. He just pretty much has one speed when it comes to being in working mode…and that is pokey. When he was about 9 months old it became pretty obvious to us that he was not going to be much of a hearing dog for my Best Half. By the time he would notify the human of a car approaching from behind, they would be roadkill. He just didn’t have the speed to make for a good hearing dog.
Max was an easily trained dog when it came to basic politeness and obedience. He wouldn't ever jump on a person, he wouldn’t bite a soul, and he always manages to be right next to me waiting for a job, any job to make him feel needed. So after realizing he’d be a really poor hearing dog, I needed to find a different job for him. Something to keep his brain sharp, but not anything requiring anything with a fast decision.
I started with a few small things for him to do. Like when I would drop something he would pick it up for me. He wouldn’t immediately bring it to me, but after making a spin around and a dodge from Zoe, he would hand the item to me in my hand. So began his training to help me around the house. He’s been taught to gather the dirty laundry, pick up toys after the grandkids leave, and my favorite…at night when I am on the couch knitting and the ball of yarn falls and rolls on the floor, Max will bring it to me. And I have to say he has gotten much better at taking a direct route back to me than even 6 months ago. He can be sound asleep and if I drop something, he comes running up to help. Not bad for the dog who needs to process his tasks before doing them. He has found his niche in what is expected of him.
Along with picking up stuff for me, he also has become proficient in bracing for me to pull myself off the couch or recliner. I have times when my back and leg will stiffen up and make it really hard to stand up from the chair or couch. I have gotten quite used to calling Max to “Come Brace”. He will plod on over and face me sideways with his legs spread out to take the weight of me holding onto his back as I stand up. He’s gotten very proficient and patient at bracing and assisting. A few weeks ago I was standing on a chair and fell off backwards to the floor, hitting my head and landing on my tailbone. It took me a few seconds lying there to see if anything felt broken. And there stood Max braced and ready, waiting for me to get up. And with him braced and standing there, I managed to literally crawl up his back and stand next to him. He stood there for many seconds until the room stopped spinning. That day, that dog was worth his weight in dog bones.
Max and I have an understanding. We take care of each other. He helps me around the house and I keep him fed and groomed so he doesn’t look like a shaggy mutt that is on the run with no home just waiting for the pound to pick him up.
Every 4 or 5 months Max needs clipping. I started clipping him myself when he was just a pup. And he has always tolerated it well.So well that he just plops down and sleeps through all the brushing and the clippers running over every inch of his body. When it is time for him to roll over to get the other side clipped, I wind up having to lift him and roll him over. No easy job with a 90 lb. dog. He may open his eyes to see what’s happening, but usually he doesn’t even blink as I am grunting and heaving and pulling him to flip over. He becomes completely dead weight from start to finish of his clipping. By the time we are done, almost 2 hours will go by and I am whipped. Yeah he gets the clipping and I get the whipping.