"Border Collie," Marty Harbibi barked. "Gotta be."
Nat growled. "Heeler. Definitely your Australian Cattle Dog."
I roved into the Grill side of the Hog Trough at that moment.
"Set 'er down, Claire," Marty commanded, wagging his hand toward an empty chair. "Stay a while." I shed the packages of doggie treats I'd just purchased over on the Feed side. I sat. But my ears were pricked up. Dogs? Dogs? I drool over dogs.
Ignoring me, Carty yelped, "Now, don't get your fur up, guys. I ain't gonna hound you about this. But remember, some of us are hunters, not herders. What about Labrador Retrievers , Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Catahoula Leopard ..."
"What are you all yapping about?" I asked.
"They whole pack of 'em," said Janelle-the-waitress, pouring me a cup of the Hog Trough's coffee-wannabe mystery beverage, "are sniffin' around the idea of what's the perfect country dog. They're barkin' up the wrong tree." She started to walk off, but turned back for a moment to add, "Golden Retrievers."
"No trick," Dora-the-Yalie argued doggedly. "It's the Maremma Sheepdog. Or maybe the Great Pyrenees."
Howls and yips greeted this opinion. Everybody guessed that, despite the awesome flock-guardian character of these breeds, Dora's choice was based on vanity. Pretty country dogs, those two.
Everybody went on snarling and tussling. But they all knew, really; there's no such thing as a perfect country dog.
That Great Pyr who guards your flock so devotedly might drive you mad by barking all night. Then it'll look at you with a big "So what?" when you call it to come home.
That adoring Golden Retriever that dashes to your side so faithfully and who swims out to fetch your birds in its gentle mouth might get cancer at a young age and break your heart. (The breed is prone to it.)
That Border Collie that's so smart might ... well, might make your children look like underachievers by comparison. And might be so hyper you want to reach for the Ritalin if you don't have enough work to keep it busy.
The problem isn't finding the perfect country dog. The problem is how to hunt for your country dog. The one that's right for you - and you for him.
I rescue abandoned and abused dogs when I'm not fomenting revolution. I've also made some real messes with dogs in my life (yeah, like getting a Great Pyrenees because it was so pretty). So I know all about being a "Bad human!"
Let me take a break from rabble-rousing to offer some doggie do's and don'ts for anybody who's looking for that almost-perfect country dog. Or any dog, for that matter.
- DO dig, dig, dig for info. You can start at the Dog Breed Information Center. Once you've gnawed on that bone for a while, contact or visit the Web sites of AKC breed clubs, breed-related discussion lists, and real people whose needs are like yours. They'll give you the poop on why might just NOT want that particular breed. (Consider it great obedience training; being clear about bad dog traits will help you find the good dog you really want.)
- DO look for a well-behaved breeder if you're buying a purebred pup. That means one that most likely has a waiting list of buyers for its new pups; one that matches you carefully with the right dog; one that has a clean kennel with only a few well-socialized animals; one that not only will take the pup back, but makes you sign a contract to give the dog back if the purchase doesn't work out; and more
- DO learn one simple trick when looking for a working dog: Buy from a breeder of working lines. In some breeds, like Great Pyrenees or Australian Cattle Dogs, for instance, that working heritage will make a huge difference in how well your dog can perform its traditional role. On the other hand, if you're looking for a country pet, a dog from working lines might be too active or independent for you.
- DO consider fetching Fido through Petfinder.org or your local shelter. It's a great place to find both purebreds and mutts that are looking for new homes. You might even save a life.
- DO consider rescuing Rover through a breed rescue group if you want a purebred. Adopting through a rescue usually means you get an adult animal of unknown pedigree that once belonged to someone who didn't want it. But most of these dogs have since lived with a foster family who can really tell you about their abilities, personalities and needs. Here are more leads to breed rescues. (Oh. Expect rigorous screening if you adopt through one of these groups.)
In narrowing down your breed choices, you can have fun and learn a lot using the breed selector at the info center. It's especially helpful if your dog absolutely must be a non-shedder or hypoallergenic. Or if you absolutely have to have a dog of a certain size. But otherwise, play around with the selector and don't narrow your criteria too quickly. You might exclude a dog that turns out to be your ideal breed.
- DON'T put yourself in the dog house by choosing a trendy breed. Breeds that get popular quickly get ruined by indiscriminate breeding. (Crippled German Shepherds and vicious Cocker Spaniels are the sorry result.) Breeds that get popular for the wrong reasons also end up rejected. (Thousands of Dalmatians -- a difficult breed for most people to live with -- die in shelters every time Disney releases a new version of that darned movie.)
- DON'T get bit by doggie fantasies. Don't choose a dog because it's cute. Or exotic. Or macho. (You guys who see the men's magazine features and rush out to buy Rhodesian Ridgebacks -- imagine, a dog bred to confront lions! -- are going to be surprised when your big powerful muscular hunting hound devours the neighbor's chickens for sport then comes home and makes more emotional demands than your ex-wife). You're going to have to live with the whole dog, not just its image.
- DON'T fall for that doggie in the window of a pet store unless you also have a chance to visit - in person - the breeder. Pet stores are too often the retail front for the horrible puppy mill industry. Bad people breeding unhealthy pups and cruelly abusing the parents. And don't believe the store owner when they tell you all their dogs are from "local breeders." That's a standard tale. And even a genuine "local breeder" might be beastly and produce unhealthy litters.
- DON'T stray over to that box of cute puppies they're giving away in front of the grocery store - unless you're prepared to give that impulse pup the next 15 years of your life. Impulse dogs can be wonderful critters. But too many impulse owners dump those cute pups when they grow into huge, untrained hounds or "just don't fit our lifestyle."
- DON'T roll over for the idea that just because a dog is "registered" or "has papers" it's a healthy, well-bred animal. Registration with a kennel club says nothing about the health or temperament of a dog. (A situation that the kennel clubs and their affiliated breed clubs have the power to change by raising their standards.)
There are hundreds of dog breeds, from Affenpinschers to Xoloitzcuintles.
Your perfect critter might be as hairy as a Komondoror as bald as a Chinese Crested. As big as Hercules the English Mastiff or as small as Tiny Pinocchio the Yorkie.
And of course, she's just as likely to be no quite recognizable breed at all and of quite middlin' size and disposition. Nobody else might even notice her.
But she's the perfect dog for you because ... well, you just fit.
The Dogs of Hardyville are a motley (and mostly a muttly) crew. They balance atop hay bales on the backs of flatbed trailers. They nip recalcitrant cows into motion, guard our flocks, warm our feet, and spare the occasional burglar from getting a butt full of birdshot by warning him: This Home Guarded By Attack Poodle.
They amaze us, entertain us, save our lives, save our sanity, and sometimes drive us crazy. They love us when nobody else does and tell us they miss us when we've been away. (Never mind that they occasionally express their longing for us by eating the sofa.)
They work harder than we do or laze about like pampered princesses. They sit at our feet as we solve the world's problems over coffee-wannabe beverage at the Hog Trough Grill and Feed. And they don't drink the brew, which makes them smarter than we are.
They are the Dogs of Hardyville - well-matched to their people, each and every one of them. And it goes without saying we love them.
Although never, we must admit, as much as they love us. After all, they're dogs and we're only human.