February 2, 2013
I love dogs, but I don’t always trust them. Especially dogs that I don’t really know. Dad instilled that wariness in me one day long ago when he explained that a dog that licks you just might be testing your salt.
That whole being-eaten thing was running through my mind one day as I was hiking the BT on a lonely back road in southern Ohio. After two dogs had harassed me a couple of bends-in-the-road ago, I made a mental note to team up with someone next time–maybe the Dog Whisperer would like to do some hiking.
I was just recovering from the last encounter when a new, totally-crazed canine came rushing down to the roadside from a porch. When he finally stopped, he was so close I could see the flecks of foam flicking from his jaw, and I could almost feel his hot breath upon me. He was probably not even concerned with whether I needed more salt or not. He pawed viciously at the ground. Was he indicating the place where he would bury any uneaten bones?
Barely audible over the loud, incessant barking, a voice came from the porch. The unseen homeowner called out, “Don’t worry. He’s never bitten anyone.” This, as his dog began to circle around behind me.
What was the Voice really saying?: “No one has been crazy enough to walk down this road until now.” Or maybe, “It won’t be too bad when he bites you–he’s never had any practice.” Or worse yet, “He’s not bitten anyone today.”
Needless to say, I was greatly relieved when the dog calmed down a bit and started breathing. Maybe he was out of shape from sitting around on the porch too much. Or maybe he had decided to postpone his meal until the next hapless hiker wandered by, and settle for merely terrorizing me. After all, he had gotten in some great practice in hackle-raising, baring his fangs, and doing all the other things that non-biting dogs do. Fortunately, I made it through the hike with no fang marks, but I did feel sorry for the next unsuspecting hiker.
On the next hike, I made sure I had a couple of buddies with me, Bob and Andy. They are pretty good with dogs. (Besides, I’m only a third as afraid of mean dogs when there are three of us.) We didn’t have to wait long before we had our first encounter. A large yellow dog bounded down a long, sloping yard, straight in our direction. He was round and sturdy, and had a coat that looked like it belonged on a sheep. I saw no homeowner on the porch, though that wouldn’t have given me much confidence at that point. We quickly found, however, that this magnificent creature was certainly no foe; he fell into formation with us and matched our pace down that quiet back road. He didn’t ask for much attention. He gave us a quick peripheral glance or two, but something else was on his mind. What could a country dog be thinking that was so serious?
We found out two bends later. We noticed three good-sized dogs out in a yard, but once again no homeowners. (Maybe they had been eaten, judging by the size of their dogs.) At the same time we noticed the dogs, we gratefully observed that “Old Yeller” had seamlessly shifted his position ever so slightly to fix himself between them and us. The three dogs put on an agonizing display of barking and gyrating–I almost pitied them–but I knew right from the start that they would not test “our dog.” I could see that their hearts were not in it. Maybe they had had an experience like this before.
About a half mile farther down the road, as my pulse rate was returning to double digits, we heard a vehicle approaching, the first one we had seen out there that day. The pickup pulled over and the driver greeted us. “I see you’ve met my dad’s dog.” “That’s some dog,” I replied. To which he responded, “Half of him, yes. The other half is wolf.”
As we helped the man load him up into the truck bed, I told him about our fresh dog encounter. He gave us a knowing smile. “Every once in a while someone walks by Dad’s house, and the dog wanders off with them. I guess he’ll never learn to stay in the yard.”
Lucky for us that he didn’t stay home that day, doing whatever country dogs–or should I say wolves–do in their yards. What can I say about a friend who will put himself out there for you? Just that this is one “wolf in sheep’s clothing” you can count on. Even if he licks you.