When I was in high school, my older brother adopted a dog from a shelter and brought her home to meet the family. He intentionally looked for the least-cute (which sounds slightly nicer than flat-out calling her ugly) dog at the shelter, because he figured she was less likely to find another home. It was a sweet thought, and my parents and I admired him for that.
Until he brought the dog over for a visit.
This dog appeared to be made up of about 100 different dogs. She had the little ears of a terrier, the short legs of a corgi, and a tail that was long like a beagle’s, but also curled up like a pug’s. She even seemed to have a little muskrat or sea lion in there. She had an underbite and was thin, but oddly muscular, like she’d been pumping iron in some sort of canine gym. In sum, she was not very cute. Hers was a face only a mother (or someone with really poor eyesight) could love.
But my dog-loving family and I and welcomed Her Weirdness with open arms and soothing tones, mentally proud of ourselves for being so kind to such a strange-looking animal.
It turns out, the dog was just as unimpressed with us. The moment she entered the room, she scampered away from us and began sprinting around the entire house. We assumed she had some nervous energy to get out and would begin to calm down after a minute. Nope. She made laps down the hall, through the kitchen, into the living room, out the back door (that we had kept open in case she needed to potty), then around the yard and back inside.
Anytime she came close to one of us, we’d reach a hand down, thinking a gentle touch or opportunity to sniff would make her more comfortable; instead, there was more running. We also quickly noticed that she had some sort of phobia of the threshold that connected the outside concrete with the inside of our house – each time she approached it, she’d gain speed and take a flying leap over to the other side. I began to understand why she was so muscular.
My parents and I breathed sighs of relief when my brother took the dog to his own home a little while later.
Of course, no decent story would ever end there. My brother eventually joined the Navy, and my family became the
skeptical proud new owners of Caramel, named for the color of her fur. Fortunately, Caramel had relaxed considerably by then, and was actually a very sweet little dog. She was relatively well-behaved (despite her inability to learn ANY tricks), and kept her running sprees to a minimum. She also adored our other dog, Abby, who was pretty old by then. She followed Abby around the house, curled up next to her on the couch, and seemed to consider it her personal mission to keep her face groomed, much to Abby’s indignation.
Despite having some undeniably good qualities, Caramel also had some strange ones. For starters, she licked everything. I don’t just mean people or sticky floors, either. This dog happily licked the refrigerator door, the cabinet, the couch, even rocks. If she came across a particularly tasty rock, she’d even take it in her mouth and attempt to gnaw on it – appearing puzzled when she couldn’t chew it up.
She also had a strange penchant for biting toes. It wasn’t an aggressive thing at all; she’d just happen to walk past someone with bare feet, and then decide to casually gnaw on their toes. No big deal.
Unfortunately, we were pretty certain that Caramel had been abused by previous owners, and as a result, every time she was told “no” in a stern way, she cowered down and gave us sad looks. This made dog parenting a bit challenging.
The Pitiful Dog Cycle:
It’s entirely possible that Caramel was smarter than all of us and somehow cooked up this entire scheme – like a furry con artist. Trying to eat rocks doesn’t usually indicate high intelligence, though.
Caramel’s social skills were another point of confusion for our family. Although she appeared to feel intense love and affection for Abby, she seemed to think that all other creatures are malevolent and must be stopped. She would perch herself at the front door, still as a statue, and wait for suspicious animals – which included humans, dogs, cats, birds, butterflies, and pretty much any other live being – to cross by our house. Oddly, the smaller the animal, the more evil it appeared to her. Grizzly bear outside? Meh. Baby squirrel? NOPE.
If anything dared set foot near our property, or even glance in the general direction of our property, Caramel let out some intimidating warning barks. If the suspect didn’t notice her (which was often, because they were outside and she was not), Caramel’s brain switched into Enraged Mode.
Caramel: Normal/Sweet Mode Caramel: Enraged Mode
She’d pounce on the door with her short front legs, bark angrily, and glare at the offender with bloodthirsty eyes. If and when my family intervened and attempted to scold her, she’d ignore us completely, or employ the Pitiful Dog Cycle again. We even tried comforting her, thinking that maybe the dogs and butterflies were “just stressing her out,” but our kindness was no match for the crazy.
Once the suspect moved out of sight, Caramel pranced victoriously around the house, her tail high and proud.
This complex little animal was also a bit of a drama queen, and felt the need to make her feelings known to everyone around. She loved going on walks with my dad, and the second she saw him holding her leash, she became filled with more joy than her little body could contain. Wild-eyed, she’d bark excitedly and do some sort of hyper jump-dance around my dad. (Picture a tap-dancing jack rabbit.)
On the other hand, if he dared go on a walk without her, Caramel made sure the rest of us knew about her anguish. She’d sit at our feet and whine, and then pace the house, looking out every window for Dad Sightings. After several minutes of No Dad, she’d start howling – a terrible, pathetic howl. This wasn’t the high-pitched sound that I’ve heard from other dogs; no, this noise was groan-like and raspy, as though she’d been smoking cigarettes for thirty years. (To our knowledge, she only smoked pipes.) Nothing we could do or say would soothe her, and she would punish us with this noise until Dad finally returned.
Truthfully, Caramel was probably the most “human” dog I’ve ever known: varied emotions, lacking manners – and a strong desire to do whatever she pleases.