Labradors are famous for their appetites. Somewhere along their development line, the “I’m full” gene got bred out of them, and Blue is no exception. About a week ago, she ate a bone that was lying by one of those communal bins I’ve written about. (It was probably a cat reject, with a good dusting of lime powder, to boot.) That night, she hacked and coughed like a veteran smoker, to the point where we considered taking her to the vet the next morning. When morning arrived, though, she seemed fine, eager as ever to head out on her walk. As a consequence of the above, I have been actively trying to steer her clear of cartilage and bone during our voltas, but her sense of smell always one-ups my sense of sight, and once in the mouth, there is no extracting the undesired (my word choice, not hers) object (with clearly no lesson learned from the last dodgy ingestion). I’ve been talking to her about “bad bones” and how non-compliance with the new no-bone rule will spell employment of the dreaded “muzzle” (a word that gives her the serious willies). Still the bones have been getting past customs, so last Tuesday, out came the muzzle. People stared, a child pointed, and Blue wore her sad eyes for heightened effect. Coupled with feeling like a cruel owner, I realized she couldn’t pant, and would overheat unless I conceded to remove the thing. Alright, you win, I said. But no more bad bones, or muzzle again, mu-zzle, I repeated, for effect. Big threat; fat chance.
It’s funny when you catch yourself on, as my aunt Bernie would say, talking to an animal, but some words definitely do get channeled. One term I know works well is among her favourites: Chewy stick, a pungent, fake-meat-smelling doggy snack. While we’re walking along companionably, Blue has an air of “I’m definitely not with her“. Witness yesterday. I decided to load up with a couple of the treats for some of the strays we greet en route. Then, in a flash, the idea of rewarding Blue for not eating any bad bones came to mind. When I said the words, she actually looked up–a first, and proof that she has been listening all this time, just not deeming to acknowledge. I was so taken with the power of the term that I used up a whole stick in the first kilometer. Then, another Labrador and Yorkshire Terrier, whose yard we pass, got the second. Everything was going well until the last part of the walk when Blue grabbed a child’s fist-sized knuckle of bone from a puddle of water. I’d totally missed it, and had no more chewy sticks to bribe it out of her mouth. First, I tried running; surely the exertion would make her spit it out. Nothing. It was locked in tight. Then I picked up some mandarin skin off the floor and squeezed some of its zest at her snout. Nothing. Okay, hard-ball time: I snapped off a small piece of hedge, and lied: Chewy stick. Blue dropped the knuckle, I popped the shaft of leaves into her expectant mouth, then kicked the gross gnarl of bone into the road. Ha! Got ya!