Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jamie stories, Vol. 3: the nose

For all that he was generally a very sweet and gentle dog, Jamie had a wicked sense of humor. I am convinced he did things just to see what kind of reaction he would get. Anyone was fair game for his pranks, from the dog savvy to the canine uninitiated.

One of his favorite things to do was to poke people with his nose. Apparently this was a completely recreational activity, since he did it even when there was no chance of making the poke-ee produce treats. Usually he aimed his pokes at people’s hind ends, although other body parts were fair game if those were unavailable.

Those of you who have been nose-poked by a Belgian have probably experienced the sparkle of delight in their eyes when you whirled around to chastise them. They don’t care that they’re going to get a scolding. They’ve already had their jollies. Jamie would dance backward, tail wagging, with a huge grin on his face. No amount of unrewarding feedback would stop him from doing it again, given the chance.

And there were lots of chances. My friends were used to receiving a “Christmas goose” at any time of the year. Jamie had a few favorite targets. The Farmer was one of them. Jamie would lounge around the house, exhibiting casual disinterest in anything the humans were doing, until the Farmer got up from the table or out of his recliner. Then he would slowly rise and with practiced nonchalance, amble along in the same direction the Farmer was going.

For a 60 pound dog, he was light on his feet. He could put on a burst of silent speed, goose the Farmer in the hind end and jump backwards out of retaliation range in seconds. The result was always the same - a surprised squawk from the goose-ee, followed by a volley of empty threats and occasional swear words while Jamie wagged his tail, visibly enjoying the aftermath of his little game. He found it extremely self-rewarding and he played it for years.

My friend Rilda, who died last year, was another of his favorite targets. Rilda was the person everybody’s dogs loved because she always had treats in her pockets and she shared generously. Jamie, who was raised by Shelties, never missed the opportunity to score a free cookie. And he adored Rilda. He really did. Whether she had cookies or not. But especially if she did.

He poked her to get the cookie stream started. If he felt she was not producing cookies fast enough, he poked her to speed things up. Verbal scoldings only made him do it harder. She scolded, he poked, she scolded, he poked faster and so on. By then, she was usually laughing so hard she couldn’t talk and his nose-pokes had achieved woodpecker rapidity on her leg. If he felt nose-poking was not achieving the desired result, he would nibble at her jeans or sweatshirt. I told her constantly to tell him to knock that off and quit reinforcing it but she never did. I think she enjoyed it as much as he did.

Jamie was not above poking people he didn’t know. Every winter, we order fruit from the local FFA chapter. One evening two neighborhood high school boys delivered our boxes of oranges and grapefruit. They were in the kitchen, chatting with the Farmer and Jamie came out to see who was in his house. I assured the boys he was friendly. They clearly didn’t believe me. He sniffed their shoes. They backed up against the wall. He sniffed their hands. They put their hands in their jacket pockets.

“You can pet him,” I said, “he’s not going to bite you.”

They stayed where they were, frozen against the wall. I’ve seen these kids wrangle 1,200 pound steers at the county fair and operate heavy machinery on their family farms. But they were clearly demoralized by being sniffed by a dog.

Jamie took it as a personal affront that they would not acknowledge him. He gently poked their coat pockets. Nothing. He poked a little harder. Nothing. He tried poking at various places on their personage. Nothing. He was gearing up for a full-scale assault when I intervened.

Jamie found people poking so rewarding, he did it to other people at their houses as well.

I asked friends to share their memories of Jamie and my friend Liz wrote, “Jamie stayed at our house a few times and always seemed determined to poke Fritz (her husband) in the butt. One morning I came downstairs to the kitchen with Fritz standing facing Jamie telling him to stop poking him in the ass.

“Jamie stayed with us when Melinda and Michele went to get Phoenix. That was the great ice storm of 2007. We lost our electricity so all of  the dogs and Fritz and I slept in the living room in front of the fireplace. Jamie was determined to poke Fritz in the butt during the night.  We would be asleep or nearly so and there Jamie would go again — poking Fritz’s butt.”

Jamie put his nose to good use in more productive ways, too. He was the first dog I ever tracked with and he was a natural. He learned quickly, certified on his first try and passed his first TD test. Truly, my biggest regret is that I did not go back and pursue his TDX. He was a delight to track with and worked with enthusiasm and power.

Next: miscellaneous memories.


  1. I don't know why, but this story brought out the Seussian in me. Hope it gives you a smile. It's rough and could use some polish:

    It’s his favorite game—this game of Goose
    And clearly not for those obtuse

    He pokes you for a treat
    He pokes your hands and feet
    He pokes you limb to limb
    Even as you scold him

    He pokes you for a laugh
    And finds it such a gaffe
    That dog is full of sass
    When he pokes you in the ass

    He pokes you when you’re least suspecting
    And faster when you’re full objecting

    He’ll poke you in your house
    He is quiet as a mouse
    You’ll never hear a peep
    When he pokes you in your sleep

    He pokes you when you’re not expecting
    To his whims you are subjecting

    He pokes you ‘til he makes you squeak
    And you smile cheek-to-cheek
    That dog is such a clown
    And only stops when there’s no frown.

    It’s his favorite game---this game of Goose
    And worthy of a Dr. Seuss

  2. Awwww, am really loving your Jamie stories. Happy memories keep our gone ones alive in our hearts. And I adore a dog with a sense of humour!