Dog Time - by John Sealander

 


 

Forgive me if I'm a little late to your next meeting. Don't be offended if I tell you I'm going out for a short walk and don't come back until well after dark. After spending almost twenty years with a Dalmatian as my constant companion, I'm beginning to realize that my biological clock has been reset to dog time.

Dogs in general, and Dalmatians in particular, don't view time in the same way as you or I. They don't plan ahead. They don't pace themselves. And the whole concept of staying on schedule is completely foreign to them.

Basically, time is like a light switch to a Dalmatian. When they don't feel like doing anything, time is turned off. Dalmatians can sleep for inordinate amounts of time, even when they aren't particularly tired. When the light switch is turned on though...watch out!

A Dalmatian can chase a squirrel for hours when it becomes convinced that its elusive prey is within reach. On the other hand, the chase will only last a few seconds when the squirrel embarrasses the dog with a superior display of agility and cunning. Dalmatians are intelligent animals. They don't like to look foolish and will vary their routine considerably, depending on the circumstances and their mood at the moment. Unlike other breeds who settle into routines so predictable you could set your watch by them, you can never quite be sure what a Dalmatian is going to do next.

Whatever they choose to do, they will continue doing it until they feel the task is completely finished. Don't even try to hurry a Dalmatian. They take their own sweet time and there is little you can do that will either speed them up or slow them down. Fast or slow, Dalmatians definitely do not believe in multitasking. Their life is a linear one and whatever has captured their interest, receives 100% percent of their attention.

Walking a Dalmatian can be an interesting experience. They can almost instantly switch from a spirited run to a dead stop if an interesting smell catches their attention. When you jog with your Dalmatian, you do so at your own peril. The frequent changes in speed and direction that are part of a normal Dalmatian's walking style can easily send either you or your dog sprawling if you aren't paying attention at all times. Type-A personalities and other people on a tight schedule can find a Dalmatian's unique way of walking irritating. I prefer to look at my dog's seemingly fickle starts and stops as a sign of intelligence. Dalmatians are very inquisitive. If something catches their attention, they prefer to follow their nose, rather than any obedience training they may have received.

If you let your spotted friend lead the way on walks, you will meet new neighbors, discover flora and fauna that you never knew existed in your neighborhood and keep an endless supply of local squirrels entertained with your dog's inability to catch them. You might not ever travel the same route twice, but chances are that no matter how long or short your journey, you'll almost always arrive back home just in time for lunch.

My own dog, Petey, has a highly evolved sense of time. There is a time and place for everything in his life. His habits may seem random and haphazard when compared to the predictable Black Lab living next door, but there is a certain logic in everything he does. Petey doesn't bound out of bed at the crack of dawn like some dogs. He has learned that nothing really happens in his world until I am dressed, so he buries himself in the covers until he see me put my pants on. As I finish dressing, he yawns and stretches, announcing that he is ready to go outside. The actual time of this event changes from day to day, but the sequence stays the same. Petey eats grass, occasionally throws up and does his business while I fix my morning coffee and a bowl of Science Diet WD mixed with a little taste of Wellness Super5Mix. While Petey is eating his breakfast, I rush back and make the bed, having learned that if I don't use this moment of opportunity, my dog will jump back under the covers and refuse to move until he thinks it is time for his first walk of the day.

Petey usually hops back on the bed anyway after he has finished his breakfast, but at least the bed is made. If I am eating cereal, Petey stays in the bedroom, but if I am eating pancakes and sausages, he will return to the kitchen, drooling on my shoe until he gets a bit of sausage. Petey is funny about food. As long as I am eating, he thinks he should be eating too. The more I eat, the more he eats. Conversely, the less I eat, the less he eats. I have tried all sorts of weight maintenance formulas with this dog, but the most effective way to get him to lose a few pounds is to simply go on a diet myself.

When Petey wants to eat, he will sit next to his bowl in the kitchen. Sometimes I'll wonder where he has disappeared to when he's not in his usual place on the bed or under my desk. Almost inevitably in these occasions, I'll find him waiting patiently at his bowl. When he gets in these moods, he will stubbornly stand (or sit) his ground and refuse to move even when I tell him that he has eaten less than an hour ago. Luckily, I am slowly learning how a dogs mind works. Whenever I find Petey transfixed, staring at the refrigerator or his food bowl, I whisper the word "squirrel" in his ear, and off he goes running to the back door in search of his elusive prey.

Petey couldn't catch a squirrel if his life depended on it. When he sees one nearby, he starts running so fast that he runs straight past the squirrel and is usually unable to slow down or get himself turned around again until the squirrel is halfway up the nearest tree. Chasing squirrels is "dog time" in its purest form. There is no strategy or game plan. There is either a squirrel in front of you or there isn't. When you are operating in dog time you eat when you see food. You chase things when they move. And you sleep when there is nothing to eat or chase.

Life is simple when measured this way. Dog time mandates that you only do one thing at a time. You quickly realize that multi-tasking is a myth. You quit using your cell phone in the car. You stop making appointments and simply go from one task to the next. You actually get more accomplished than you did before by the simple act of finishing what you started before beginning something new.

Sometimes it amazes me that dogs have such an ability to live for the moment. No matter how important something is, they never seem to brood when the moment has passed. I've seen Petey work himself into a frenzy barking at a garbage truck in the alley and then immediately lie down in a pile of leaves and go to sleep the moment the truck drives away. If you accidentally step on your dog's tail, he may bite you, but he will never hold a grudge. I envy this ability to live totally in the present. Just imagine how much more time we would all have if we could just manage to quit worrying about the future and fret about the past.

Petey has no concept of taking a thirty-minute walk. He doesn't have a goal of walking a mile before breakfast either. One thing simply leads to another. If there are lots of interesting things to smell and explore, the walks can be quite long. If it's hot outside and there isn't a nearby creek or pond to cool down in, they can be much shorter. The pace can be quite brisk if we are following in the footsteps of another dog, or excruciatingly slow if he feels there is a good reason to linger. He can dart after a squirrel or bird so suddenly that I have to start running too, just so he won't jerk the leash out of my hand. Conversely, he can take so long to find the perfect place to pee that it's like watching grass grow. We speed up, slow down, or change directions based entirely on what crosses our path on any particular day. One day it might take an hour and a half to complete our morning walk. The next day, the same walk could take thirty minutes. Friends who see walking as a form of exercise refuse to walk with Petey. His total focus on what is in his current field of vision completely destroys their rhythm.

I used to try to keep a schedule too. Now, I'm starting to see the wisdom of Petey's ways. Dog time can be very useful. You begin the day more rested, because dog time dictates sleeping until you feel like getting up. You don't need to wear a watch, because the time on the clock doesn't even matter. Your day progresses one task at a time and by the time the sun goes down, you are usually pleasantly surprised at how much you accomplished.

I've noticed that there are some things that Petey is always ready to do. He loves to ride in the car and will gladly interrupt anything except breakfast, lunch or dinner for an opportunity to take a road trip. This ability to put pleasure ahead of purpose seems like a good thing for humans too. Although I'm not nearly as enamored with car rides as Petey, I've started to emulate his behavior in other ways. If a friend surprises me with an invitation to lunch, I'll almost always accept it these days. A little break in the day-to-day monotony never hurt anyone. Some days I may surprise Petey with a juicy piece of chicken in his lunchtime kibble. Other days I surprise myself with a diversionary excursion to window shop at my favorite computer store. We both keep busy though, because routines are comforting and ultimately, you're got to do something between sunrise and sunset.

Do Dalmatians live a more linear, present tense life than other dogs? Maybe not. They do live life with a lot more intensity though. When a Dalmatian eats, it is the most important thing in the world. When they run, they run as fast as their legs will carry them. Everything a Dalmatian does is the most important thing in the world until the moment passes. Dalmatians don't like to wait. How many times has your Dalmatian slapped you with a paw while you were reading a book or working at your desk, just to remind you that it's time to move on to something else. It's not that your dog is on a schedule. It's more likely that they are finished with whatever caught their attention a few moments ago and something new has occurred to them that now includes you.

Petey likes to include me in all his activities. When he sleeps, he likes me to sleep with him. When he's digging up things in the back yard, he likes me to sit out on the back porch and watch. I'd never get anything done if it weren't for the fact that any dog's day includes a lot of sleeping. When Petey's asleep, I work. When he's awake, I do whatever he wants. It's just easier that way.

As you may have guessed, I don't work in an office. My desk has a computer sitting on top of it and a dog sitting under it. Even though Dalmatians can be the most demanding animals in the world, this arrangement usually works quite well. We don't need a Palm Pilot or an appointment calendar to keep us on schedule. Somewhere between sunrise and sunset, there are three walks and two meals to break up the day. Petey determines the length of the walks and I determine the content of the meals. Sometimes we play ball, which usually means that I throw Petey the tennis ball once and then he proceeds to chew it relentlessly until it is completely demolished. Sometimes we go swimming, which typically means that Petey gets wet chasing after ducks in the small lake behind the house and then I get wet trying to clean him up enough to take back inside again.

There is not a schedule for any of these activities, although many of the things we do together happen quite regularly. Dogs don't seem to have a wide range of interests. They seem to be quite happy doing a few things over and over again. My neighbors Black Lab will fetch a ball for hours at a time. Petey prefers chasing things. I never let him off a leash on walks because he is just as likely to chase a car or a cement truck as a squirrel. I have one of those long retractable Flexi leashes that give him the illusion of running free. For his part, he sleeps enough during the day that I have the illusion of having a normal work life.

A few friends worry that my conversion to dog time is turning me into a recluse. They say I don't get out enough. What they don't know is that I actually meet and talk to more people these days that I did when my life was a series of meetings and places to be. Petey and I meet a lot of people on our daily walks. There's just something about a spotted dog that makes people want to talk. During the past month, I've met a man who claims to have befriended and tamed a lonely Canadian goose. I chat with another man every morning who spends his retirement years fishing for catfish and bass in our lake, cleaning them and giving them to the homeless. In between, Petey and I have become friends with a man who builds radio-controlled helicopters, gotten to know the FedEx delivery man and learned the basics of laying concrete from a contractor remodeling the house next door.

I like living like a dog. In a world without deadlines, you are seldom late. Somehow a dog knows when to eat and when to sleep without looking at a watch. Dogs usually have the good sense not to try to do two things at once, unless something startles them and they start to bark while eating. The more time I spend around Dalmatians, the more I find myself acting like them. I seldom miss a meal. I stubbornly cling to rituals and habits that make absolutely no sense to anyone else. I don't look at walking as exercise anymore. It is simply part of a normal day. While Petey chases ducks, I am learning to identify them. While Petey digs up plants in the back yard, I water the ones that remain. It's not a bad life. And I don't even need a watch.


If you enjoy these stories and would like to help this wonderful breed of dogs, please consider making a donation to Dalmatian Rescue of North Texas. Your donation will help Dalmatian Rescue continue to rescue and rehabilitate the hundreds of Dalmatians that are abandoned in North Texas every year. To help give a deserving Dalmatian a second chance, just click on the button to your left. You can use any major credit card to make your donation instantly and no matter what you choose to give, you can feel a little better knowing that you have helped a dog very much like Petey find the one thing it really needs: a home.

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