This blogging thing is brand new for me. Everyone who knows me is aware that I have opinions and that sequestering them in a blog is probably a good idea. But right now, sitting down to write, all I can think about is Nickel.
Nickel was the first dog I had as an adult. Recently married, we were eager to buy a house so we could get a dog. We researched breeds and went to meet dogs and breeders. Charmed by a related mini Aussie at an IABCA show, we ended up finding a recommended breeder and some months later, brought home Nickel.
Nickel was a quiet, dignified fellow who liked to hang out nearby but did not welcome a lot of snuggling and touching. We took him to puppy class at Sirius Puppy Training. He was the star of the class. After Puppy 3, we started him in flyball. I loved it. He did not. He was 15 months old when we brought home Cedi, a 10 month old female Aussie from a national breed rescue. A much more challenging dog, she was also much more athletically inclined, and after many adventures in working with a reactive dog, we went on to compete for many years in flyball and to dabble in other sports.
Nickel, meanwhile, could go anywhere with me. We stayed in a hotel when visiting my husband’s sister. At eleven months, he trotted neatly down the hotel corridor offleash with us, charming everyone who met him. We drove to the North Coast for our anniversary, and my husband got his car stuck in the sand. The tow truck wouldn’t come to us, so I got on the left side of the car and my husband on the right, and we started digging to get the sand out from under it. After a while, I looked up, and there was Nickel, tucked under the rear of the car, digging madly. Somehow, in his quiet doggy way, he’d grasped the group project and decided to help.
Nickel would do some zooming and exploring during hikes, but usually could be found behind my left calf. I’d lose him, sometimes, as he hovered silently in my blind spot. He was always there. One time, I lost him. He just disappeared while walking with me one night while my life was falling apart. It was the night before my fortieth birthday; I was getting divorced and had just started a new job; and he was gone. I looked for him for hours, calling. Finally I had to go home and sleep. I called in sick, not a good impression to make for my third day of work with its scheduled meeting with the vice-president of the firm. The next morning, I headed back to where he’d disappeared. I stopped at a supermarket to pick up thumbtacks to put up the LOST DOG signs I’d printed, and while in line nearly burst into tears as the older gentleman ahead of me ranted to the cashier about dogs and how dangerous they were. Just a few weeks earlier, two Presas Canarios had mauled Diane Whipple to death across the Bay, and I felt that man’s disapproval like a slap. I found Nickel, quietly grinning and wiggling in a backyard, less than an hour later. He’d gone downhill over the fence (after a skunk, as it turned out) and couldn’t jump high enough uphill to escape. He was fine, though he never gave up in his quest to catch a skunk.
I made mistakes with Nickel. I’m still horrified when I think about the method we tried to use to teach him a flyball box turn. I made him somewhat dog aggressive by continuing to take him to the dog park long after he had indicated he was finding it stressful. After a lot of work and learning, I had taught him to be comfortable with dogs nearby, as long as he didn’t have to greet; he never got over Boxers, though, and taught all my subsequent dogs to bark at them.
After my divorce, Nickel warmed my shoulder every night. I moved from Berkeley to Portland, and he got to demonstrate that he had herding instinct, though not a lot of drive. We took obedience and rally classes, and he earned his novice rally title. I got more dogs, and he adjusted in his quiet way. He made people who met him want a mini Aussie, and I had to educate people that many mini Aussies were very different from this demure black dog.
Nickel did, finally, get old. His vague and subtle queasiness resolved into clear-cut inflammatory bowel disease, and his energy waned. About six weeks ago, while I was away overnight teaching at dog camp, I got a call telling me he’d collapsed and was on his way to the emergency vet. I drove home, three hours over pitch black winding mountain roads, and got to the vet to find him awake, alert, but weak. Something had happened. He did not feel better the next day, as I sat in bed with him and fed him painkillers. The following morning, I took him to the vet for the last time.
Since then, I think about him all the time. So, while I expect to blog mainly about training and behavior, this first entry is dedicated to my little man, who brought me here.