This is in the woods with the dog. Every once in awhile – maybe every 1,000 sniffs – Cookie gets some kind of woodland super-scent – a deer maybe – and takes off like the tracker some of her genes must tell her she is, or at least that her ancestors used to be. Off the trail, up the hill, over the crest, disappearing into the forest like a fairy tale character.
It’s a classic-interaction moment for the two hikers along for the walk.
“Finally rid of her,” I get to say to my wife.
“Stop it, Kurt,” Gail gets to say.
After which we walk on along in silence for 25 or 30 steps before the next inevitable step in the process: “Cookie!” Gail calls out. “Cookie!”
Like the dog is going to actually run away from her mistress, to whom she is as devoted as one creature could be to another.
But even after I assert that – “That dog is no more likely to leave you than I am” – Gail cannot quite overcome the fear that Cookie is going to decide to undertake the feral life of chasing through the woods instead of the “you-think-that-dog’s-a-little-overweight?” life of not just human food in the woods (nowhere else, of course), but also of a double-thick bed at home, and treats for doing nothing beyond being a big black dog standing in the kitchen wagging her tail and woofing with impatience.
Not when it’s just me around, you understand. The dog, for whatever multiple attempts at training she has failed, is deeply trained in at least this one item: Gail’s home, yes, you go in there and wag and bump and fuss and you’ll get all this faux-scolding for such behavior, but you do still end up with the “this is the last one!” treat.
Gail’s in Richmond, as she is far too often for her job? Well, if you’re the big black dog, you don’t even come into the kitchen at non-feeding times, because you know nothing will come of it. If that other human in the house has never once given you a treat, there is no reason to suspect he might start now.
What the dog may appreciate from the no-treats human, however, is pretty much total dependability. You climb out of your doggie bed in the morning when Gail’s home, you have no idea what might be next; she might make the coffee, she might feed me, she might go back upstairs awhile, she might go straight into her office, she might sit there with the paper . . . you just never know.
When she’s not around, you know the drill: He’ll come downstairs in the dark and totally ignore you as he undertakes to either go outside to run or go down in the basement to get on the big stupid machine down there for 40 minutes.
And once he comes back in or up, you know it’s time to eat. And then after he eats and hits the shower, you know to be over by the door because it’s time to go outside. Clockwork. No wagging, no begging, no woofing, because you know what’s going to happen and what’s not.
Maybe that’s another reason Cookie loves the woods so much, and why we do too. You’re free to look and sniff and run and explore whatever you want to. If only we all had the energy and enthusiasm and foolish optimism to run after something unseen that Cookie knows is ready for her around every turn of the trail.