All of our dogs have had passions. With Toby, it was the tennis ball. He’d chase it anywhere — once, right off a cliff into Lake Superior. When we hauled him out of the water, he was wet and scared but still hanging onto the ball.
Riley’s passion was chasing squirrels — vertically. That dog could run up the side of a tree higher than my husband’s head, and my husband is a very tall man. A great cardio workout, I guess, though hard on the joints when he landed.
With Rosie, it was the Frisbee. For years, she’d fly after it, leaping and torquing into the air for amazing catches. All that ended when, one day, she realized that the field where we played wasn’t fenced and she could just keep running. Oh, she loves to run.
But Angus’ passion has proved elusive. He’s 54 pounds and strong, and he needs more than three walks a day to burn up his puppy energy. Right now his hobbies are mostly sedentary: chewing his Nylabone, wrestling with Rosie, falling asleep under the ceiling fan. He might do a little needlepoint after I’ve gone to bed in the evenings, I don’t know.
He doesn’t swim. There’s no way I’d have him run alongside me as I ride my bike — one errant squirrel and I would be a dead woman. Flyball, agility and dog parks would require him to play well with others, which he doesn’t always do.
He’s part border collie, so I guess I could get him some sheep to herd, but the city of St. Paul might have something to say about that.
At one point, I decided that he and I could go running together. This was a bad idea. He was still being trained to walk on a leash; running got him confused and he misbehaved, leaping at me and grabbing the leash in his mouth.
Also, I had forgotten that I hate running.
What I needed was a simple activity that we could do anywhere and that would tire him out. So I bought some tennis balls and decided to teach him to fetch.
Angus is not wired for fetch — there is no retriever in that boy. This required lessons.
We started in the basement, away from the distraction of Rosie. The first time I tossed the ball he didn’t even look at it. I used my squeakiest, most excited voice: “Where’s the ball? Where’s the ball? Go get the ball!” and after a frustrating round of most of the fetching being done by me, he retrieved once or twice and we went back upstairs.
We tried again a day or two later. This time, he seemed to get it, though if the ball happened to roll beneath the futon or behind a chair he just galloped back to me happily without it.
But after a while, it started to click. You can’t run fast or far in our basement — the main room is only about 25 feet long — but he was game, good-naturedly chasing after the ball, often accidentally booting it with his big feet, chasing it again, bringing it back, dropping it on command, accepting a treat. I started giving him treats every two retrieves, then every three, every four.
After a few weeks we moved upstairs to the main floor, where there is more room to run. It’s been going well. He still has no interest in playing fetch outside — too much else to do. Squirrels to chase, chipmunks to stalk, grass to eat, sticks to chew. But I am not giving up.
I have no idea if this will become his passion, or if we’re ever going to get to the point where fetch will wear him out, but the good news is it’s working — I’m exhausted.
Laurie Hertzel is not a dog expert, just a dog lover. She is chronicling the first year in her puppy’s life on these pages. Follow her at startribune.com/puppy
Coming Nov. 10: Happy birthday to Angus.