More Than Stereotypes!

Foofoo. Dainty. Pampered. Spoiled…. Can you guess the dog? If you said poodle, then you may feel the same as I once did about this misunderstood breed.

Back in the getting-to-know-one-another days between Andy and I, I learned that his family had toy poodles since he was in third grade. Partly because he had allergies (fair enough) and partly because his parents liked them (well, different strokes for different folks).

Or at least this is what I thought until I met his parents’ poodle. Roule (ROO-lee) failed to meet any of my preconceptions. He was not elaborately styled. He didn’t sit primly, awaiting every instruction. He wasn’t yappy, nervous, or snobby. In fact, he was a lot like the dogs I’d grown up with. Roule liked to welcome visitors. He loved table scraps. He did typical dog tricks, not circus poodle tricks. And he liked to play with toys. Hmm.

Barnaby’s flying ears ©Steve Bull – Sirius Photography
Barnaby’s flying ears
©Steve Bull – Sirius Photography

Still, it was one thing for his parents to have poodles. It was another thing for Andy to want one. Preconceptions are hard to overcome, you see. Maybe his parents’ dog was an exception?

And so Andy got Barnaby. With his silky silver hair, that goes from pretty to shaggy in just a few weeks. Barnaby gets a no-frills pet clip (also called the lamb clip or the puppy clip). I love Barnaby’s ears, which Andy has the groomer leave long. They seem to fly when he runs, but they must be pulled back when he eats, to keep them out of his food and out of his mouth. I also like his puffy tail.

Barnaby’s ears protected by the end of an old sock
Barnaby’s ears protected by the end of an old sock

Barnaby was Andy’s first dog, and so he took some adjusting to. I listened to Andy’s woeful tales of being a puppy parent. For instance, Barnaby wanted to play, play, play. If Andy wanted to relax in front of the TV or fritter away a few hours playing computer games, Barnaby was there with a toy. Or was staring, tapping, and impatiently coaxing for attention. Andy felt as if he’d lost his free time. Barnaby also liked to snack, snack, snack. If Andy neglected to put away the granola bars or crackers, they often ended up in Barnaby’s stomach. We still don’t know how he survived the white chocolate Easter bunny.

Of course, being a puppy parent also had its joys. To this day, Barnaby loves to give kisses. If you let him, he’ll clean your entire face, neck, and ears. He greets visitors with an excited wag of his tail, and welcomes head pats, ear rubs, and back strokes. Barnaby loves going for walks. Andy had hoped having a dog would make him tidier and more active, and it has. With regard to the latter, the two of them have always gone for regular walks, whether around the block, along park trails, or even around Holmes Lake. And what Barnaby loves more than anything is to run, climb, and jump. Andy called him a little billy goat, which is why they gave agility a try. The two started out doing it just for fun, but now also compete.

Allison and Barnaby take an agility class
Allison and Barnaby take an agility class

As you can see, there is nothing foofoo, dainty or pampered about Barnaby. Spoiled, maybe, but not excessively. He is a cherished member of the family, not a regal snob. And so, after Andy and I married, I decided it was time for me to forge a bond with our dog. Me, who had once thought poodles were the last breed on earth I’d ever want to own.

I started out by taking Barnaby to an obedience class. Foremost, I wanted to do something that just Barnaby and I would share. Andy and Barnaby had only ever participated in agility. It also seemed important for Barnaby to learn to view me as his mistress, as much as he regarded Andy as his master. Off we went to one obedience class and then a second. Although Andy had already taught Barnaby SIT, DOWN, COME, and STAY, he now learned to do them with me too. Finally, we were ready to try the Canine Good Citizenship Test. To pass it, Barnaby needed to accept strangers greeting him, petting him, examining him (as a vet might), and even grooming him. He also had to mingle with a crowd, tolerate the presence of other dogs, and ignore loud noises. The test ended with a supervised separation.

Allison and/or Barnaby learn to be obedient
Allison and/or Barnaby learn to be obedient

After Barnaby earned his Canine Good Citizenship, I faced a choice. Should Barnaby and I move into competition level in our obedience classes or switch to a different activity? Learning how to HEEL, TURN RIGHT, TURN LEFT…. All these commands stressed us both. Neither of us reacted quickly enough. I decided instead to try rally obedience, which is slower. Like agility, there is a marked course which handlers can practice before attempting it with their dogs. Yet it still came down to a lot of sitting, walking, and turning, none of which Barnaby found terribly exciting.

Barnaby is a dog of action. His heart and natural abilities clearly lie with agility. Although by that time he exceled in it, I knew nothing about how to direct him through a course, and so I enrolled us in a novice class. The biggest obstacle we faced was Barnaby’s confusion. He didn’t understand why Andy was sitting on the sidelines. Nor did he comprehend why sometimes I hesitated with my commands. Yet he eventually learned to stop looking for Andy and to follow closely at my side. We completed Novice 1 and 2 and Intermediate. After Andy and Barnaby had earned all the necessary qualifying runs in the Games portion of their Teacup Dog Agility Champion title, I even ran Barnaby a few times at local TDAA competitions.

Barnaby’s tongue
Barnaby’s tongue

You might recall that my initial reason for partaking in any of these dog sports was to forge a bond with Barnaby. Since those days, Barnaby and I have at times gone on solitary walks around the neighborhood. He’s also realized he can coax for milk from my cereal. We still also practice those obedience commands daily, along with a few tricks such as ROLL OVER and DANCE, which Barnaby performs for me as readily as he does for Andy. When our recliner becomes crowded with pets, three now in number, Barnaby sometimes ends up in my lap. Sometimes he will even sleep next to me on my right, away from his beloved master.

Cute. Fast. Obnoxious. Playful. Can you guess the dog? If you can’t, maybe that’s because dogs are more than their stereotypes.


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