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Friday, July 1, 2016

Queen Frida and her selective hearing

I once had a dog named Sammy, a beautiful, but kinda dumb blonde Golden Retriever. He was the gentlest dog I have ever known. He let kids, dogs, cats even crawl all over him. He raised our other dog Grover from a puppy, licking her clean when we brought her home from where she had been living with her littermates under a house on a nearby farm, and they slept curled together for months.

Later, he raised a black kitten named Jim Bundu, who used to suck on a tuft of his fur while kneading like crazy, then curl up and sleep in the nook of Sammy's protective armpit.

Sammy was the perfect dog except for his one fault. For years we thought he was deaf. On walks, we would call him back from where he was sniffing somewhere he oughtn't to have been, or try to find him when he was all cozy under the table to come and get brushed or go for a bath. Poor Sammy is deaf we said to everyone who came over to visit us.

One day, we discovered that when we mentioned the word "dinner" in a low tone of voice that didn't even make Grover budge, although she was right there in the same room, Sammy would come on run from where he had been lazing on the deck outside, looking expectantly up at us, tail awag. Hmmm. We experimented with other of his words, like "walk," "ball" and "treat" with the same result.

Nothing wrong with his ears at all. He had selective hearing. The ability (or the stubbornness) to tune out what he didn't want to hear, but to pick up on even a whisper of what he did. We were on to his bluff.

Not that it made any difference in behavior, not his anyway. As for us, instead of shouting over and over for him to "Come over here right now!", we just went and got him, clipping on the leash and all but dragging him away from the intriguing scents that were occupying his interest.

So it goes with Queen Frida. Normally, a quick "Here" followed by a slap on the thigh (my thigh) brings her around to where I want her to be. On the agility field, I can get her back immediately (or almost) when her attention wanders to a dropped treat in the grass, or a passing dog outside the fence. Not so on the trail.

There's a wonderful trail near here called the Bay Trail. It meanders along on the edge of the San Francisco Bay for miles. Dogs may go offleash on some portions of it. The water is to one side, with the San Rafael bridge stretching across to Richmond, the occasional passing boat, shore birds winging overhead, knowing enough not touch down where dogs and people abound.

But on the other side, a steep and unstable slope leads to a big field, probably protected wetlands, definitely off-limits to dogs. Critters live on the side of that cliff, not a tall one, but difficult for a human to traverse; I know; I've tried.. Lizards and ground squirrels and all manner of small hopping birds and insects use the scrubby grasses and dense brush as shelter..

Yesterday, Frida discovered the mother-lode of forbidden pleasure - rustling about among the grasses and underbrush in search of elusive small animals, whose chirps and scuttlings called to her. I called to her too, to no avail. I could picture her bounding across the field into the distance, me shouting and tromping after her, through much and mire.

But, for now at least, ignoring me all the time, she stayed close to the path, moving through the bushes; I caught glimpses of her white/red fur among the green/brown foliage. I stayed on the path, and kept moving forward, parallel to her frenzied route, until finally, finally! she burst back up ahead of me on the trail and turned in my direction. Naturally, I knelt down, my hands full of treats and called out cheerily, "Here, Frida, good girl, treats!" And she ran to me and gobbled the treats. I popped on the leash for the rest of the walk.
Frida on the run, on the beach, not the trail, but you get the picture
Selective hearing. It's a dog (and I understand, not having any) a teenager thing too.