I’m sure you’ve never been in a position to feel foolish while training or performing with your dog. What’s that? Perhaps just once, you’ve found yourself red-faced and fighting the flames of humiliation while working with your dog? If you’re anything like me, you actually have a multitude of such stories, and some of them get funnier and funnier as the years go on and time heals all. That’s why I thought it would be great fun to have a “The Laugh is on Me” contest, about what is now (perhaps not then?) the most amusing thing that has happened to you that could be filed in the category: Dogs are here to keep us humble.
I am, in part, motivated by how much I have enjoyed some of your stories in the comments section, and how many rich and varied experiences our readers have had. So start thinking about moments at home or while performing that might not have been funny then, but are funny now, and send them in as comments. But before you start typing, read these details:
1. The story must be about you, not anyone else. It must be true. (Although literary embellishments are just part of good story telling right? So said Mark Twain, and who are we to argue with one of America’s greatest writers and story tellers?)
2. Stories must be no longer than 750 words. Really, we’ll check. I always tell my students that it is harder to write a good short paper than it is a long one, so get out your editing pencil and keep it to 750 words.
3. The contest will be open through October 21st, entries after that will be enjoyed but not included in the contest.
4. The winner gets: 1) The story posted as a guest blog in November, 2) a specially signed book from me (your choice, assuming it is one of my books!), and 3) everyone’s eternal gratitude for making us laugh and helping us to feel better about the time that we were, uh, idiots.
Here’s my example to get you started. I originally wrote about this incident in a Bark column, but include it here as what was without a doubt my most embarrassing moment in front of the public, which now, thanks be to heaven, makes me laugh every time I think about it.
Picture a blue-sky autumn day and a festival of all things Scottish outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My friend, Nancy Rafetto, and I had been asked to do a herding/retrieving demonstration for the Milwaukee Highland Games. We were working in a field about 100 yards long, backed by a thick line of 12 foot high hedges at the back. The audience sat in bleachers at the side. It was great fun for everyone: people enjoyed watching the dogs and Nancy and I got to teach science under-the-radar by illustrating the genetic predispositions of different breeds. Her Golden Retriever returned any objects that she threw but play-bowed to the sheep, while my Border Collie, ignoring the balls, collected the sheep and returned them to me. First, we’d work each dog separately; then we’d throw a ball into the middle of the flock, send out both dogs simultaneously, and watch the retriever barrel through the sheep to retrieve the object and the herding dog gather the flock together again. At least, that was the plan.
We’d done it before in a variety of environments and it was always a crowd-pleaser. However, this time, I violated a basic rule of working with animals: be prepared. I had forgotten my whistle, which allows one to communicate with dogs when they are a good distance away, and is far better than using vocal commands in a noisy environment. I remembered my forgotten whistle on our way to the festival, but we’d already driven a long way, and I thought, “Oh, it’ll be fine.” Famous last words in behavior and training, hey? It probably would have been fine, since Luke was well trained to verbal signals, but just before I sent him to gather the flock, a marching band began blaring their music at full volume right behind us.
It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think, much less communicate with Luke. Pondering whether to send Luke or not, I paused to try to collect my thoughts. The sheep were about 100 yards away, and were enclosed by a tall, dense hedge. Okay, I thought, they’ll stay where they are until the band takes a breather and Luke could hear my signals.
The sheep had not read the instruction manual, and disappeared into the hedge like Alice through the Looking Glass. . First there were sheep, then Abracadabra, then there were none. While Luke and I ran 100 (very long) yards across the field, Nancy tried to entertain the crowd. Me and my dog barreled our way through the hedge, and, voila… we emerged into a suburban neighborhood, complete with manicured lawns and groomed landscaping.
I looked left and right in desperation, still in shock at the change in scenery, and finally spotted the sheep on the porch of a blue ranch-style house. I sent Luke to fetch them, and he did a lovely if other worldly outrun across paved streets and manicured lawns. We got them to the hedge, but this time they had little interest int busting through again. They darted away, into the nearest garage. Seriously, there were five panicked sheep huddled against someone’s riding mower and a wall full of rakes. Truly panicked now, Luke and I ran into the garage together to get them out. As we all–one person, one dog and five sheep–ran out of the garage I swear I heard someone say “Marge, I think there are sheep in our driveway.” I could just hear Marge say “Yeah, right…” as we all slid back through the hedge.
The crowd had given up by then and gone back to other entertainments. Nancy stood alone in the field, holding a microphone and petting her Golden. There was nothing to do but load up the sheep and drive home. We were not asked back the next year.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Neighbors and friends have declared “Post-Traumatic Vegetable Disorder.” Those of us who love fresh, local food are up to our elbows in them, slicing, chopping, canning, freezing. And oh yes, eating them. Lots and lots of eating going on here. Some of the tomatoes in the photo below went home with me, got skinned after a bath in boiling water and become homemade spaghetti sauce, along with meatballs and of course, spaghetti. Only another eight pounds of tomatoes to go.
On the other hand, Willie and I just got down the hill from working sheep. He and I have been working on him holding a line while driving, something we started last fall and have finally been able to pick up on. He did super! Of course, we were alone (always the case when we and our dogs are brilliant, yes?) but we both walked down the hill feeling truly happy. Even the sheep were happy, they got to eat apples after we were done, and since they have been penned for the last few days eating hay (no rain, no grass), I think they decided it was a good deal.