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Sunday, February 9, 2020

Surviving the dog days of winter

We have all heard of the expression, “dog days of summer”. In our house, those are the 30+degree days when our Golden Retriever lies over the air conditioning vent on the cold tile floor in the guest bathroom, groaning like a teenager. He hates the extreme heat. I told him the basement floor is even cooler but there are cats down there. He puts up with the cats (they were here first, after all), but he can’t relax around them. They can’t be trusted. So he suffers upstairs.

If the hottest days are the dog days of summer, then the winter equivalent must be when there is so much snow, the Ferg can’t find his favourite item on Earth: Ball. After our last big snow I used the ball launcher to throw not one but three different coloured rubber balls into the same section of the yard. I always throw in this direction. He doesn’t seem to realize I can throw in other directions, and he never actually looks to see which way I am throwing, so to keep things simple I usually pitch in a northerly direction. He uses his nose, you see, to find Ball. He can find it under a certain amount of snow, but if there is too much white stuff, he loses the scent. We lost 3 balls last week. We will find them in the spring. I will buy reinforcements, and make sure I throw them right in front of him so they are easy to find. For Ferg, there is no quality of life without Ball. Especially in winter.

When it’s really cold out, Fergus goes for a quick trip out to relieve himself, then he sits at the door with Ball. He is a creature of habit so he will paw the door and give me the look…but if it’s too cold I will lure him inside with the distraction of a dried liver treat. It doesn’t take much convincing. His favourite spot on these cold days is right in front of the wood stove, on a sheepskin rug. At first, when he was a puppy, Fergus thought that lying on the pelt of another animal was a bit ridiculous. I used to laugh at the face he made every time I lay him down on the fluffy fleece. Now it’s his go-to, especially when it’s in front of the fire. Besides, there are 3 cats taking up his dog bed most days and he is too polite / intimidated to ask them to leave. He really only gets his bed at night when the cats are locked in the basement.

Winter is also a time when trees are bare. To Fergus, this means that he has a much clearer view of the activities at the house next door. He rests his chin on the table and peers out the window for long moments. A chicken will wander past, then a squirrel will appear and Ferg’s ears will perk up. Finally, the door will open and Rocky, the muscular full male next door will strut over to the fenceline. Slowly, all strength and sinew, Rocky will slink along the bare brushes and sniff the air. He is sniffing for Ferg. Our dog’s hair stands on end. He shivers. His eyes are locked on Rocky.
“Oh. I see Rocky is out,” I comment. Ferg turns his head in slow motion and gives me the side eye. Part of his vision is still on the big dog next door. He goes back to his watch. Life can be exciting, even in the dead of winter.

I imagine, being born in Canada, dogs learn to appreciate the 4 seasons just as the rest of us do. If Fergus had a favourite season, for sure it would be fall. The cooler temperatures are perfect for long walks in the woods, and the rich, deep smells of rotting leaves and roaming wildlife are abundant for a sniffer dog’s nose. Winter is devoid of smell. It just smells cold, with a touch of wood smoke. Fergus’ nose gets a bit of a rest in the colder months.

His sense of hearing seems sharper than ever, however. With no leaves on the trees as a buffer, the sounds of deer crashing through the underbrush and coyotes yipping at the moon carry across the acres as if it were happening right in the yard. Then Fergus bursts out of bed and comes bounding up the stairs to bark a warning outside our bedroom door. Sometimes at 3 in the morning I have to turn the fan on to block out the sound and close the curtains so he will go back to sleep.
Spring is at least 6 weeks away, pup. Winter isn’t over yet. You might as well settle in.

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