Friends were coming for dinner — friends who wanted to meet Angus. The thought threw me into a panic. Oh, the barking.
“Can we bring anything?” one of the women asked in an e-mail.
“Just endless patience,” I said.
Angus tries to be good, I am sure of it, but he gets overly excited when visitors come, and he barks at them — a deep and menacing bark that, for all I know, means, “Hi! Nice to meet you!” but sounds like it means, “I am going to kill you as soon as I can get near you.”
So Doug and I do not let Angus anywhere near visitors until he has stopped barking. The duration is less than a minute (a vast improvement from the five or so minutes of a year ago) but even one minute is a long, long time to be barked at by a 60-pound dog.
On the May evening when my friends were due, Doug was still at work. I wasn’t sure how to manage opening the door, greeting the guests, and introducing them to Rosie, all while hanging onto a barking Angus. So I hit on the brilliant idea of putting the dogs outside.
Perhaps, I thought, Angus will just bark himself out while he’s still in the yard.
The women came into the house and out onto the back porch. Rosie and Angus looked up from where they were snuffling in the dirt. Rosie ran up the steps and barked at the screen door. Hers wasn’t a menacing bark, it was more of a “I want to join the party!” bark, so I let her in. She trotted onto the porch and allowed herself to be petted.
Angus stood at the screen door, watching. I braced myself, but he stayed quiet. “Here goes nothing,” I said to myself, and opened the door.
Angus approached the guests. He sniffed them. They petted him gently. And that was that. No barking. No drama.
It is easier, I have read, to let a dog enter a space where there are strangers than it is to let strangers enter a space where the dog already is. And Angus proved that to be true.
The rest of the night was like magic. We went for a walk and Angus was mostly calm (except when we saw four rabbits, and except when we encountered neighbor Carol, who always carries dog treats and who both dogs adore).
When time came for the humans to sit down to dinner, I sang out, “Who wants to go to bed?” and Angus and Rosie raced out of the kitchen and flung themselves into their kennels. It’s their most reliable trick, and my guests were amazed.
During dinner, and for the hour afterward as we sat and chatted, the dogs were quiet — in their kennels, and after I freed them.
Late in the evening, Angus pressed against Maureen’s legs while she scratched his ears. “Oh, he’s a leaner!” she said. “I love leaners.”
And then she said, “This is amazing. I didn’t think I was even going to be able to pet him, let alone do this.”
This gave me pause. I had meant to warn them against Angus’ barky greeting, but in doing so, did I exaggerate his flaws? Did I make him sound like an all-around monster? Yes, he can be difficult, but no, he’s not terrible.
Angus is a sweet, loyal, goofy dog. He follows Rosie everywhere, and when she gets upset, he licks her face to soothe her.
He has one big flaw: He is wary in new situations. He barks fiercely at strangers, both human and canine.
I am extremely careful with him, because he is big — the biggest dog we’ve ever had. But in being so careful, I may have overstated his problems. I don’t want people to be scared of him, and so I warn them off. I’ve been telling you that he’s bad, but actually he’s pretty well behaved.
So let me say it now: Who’s a good dog? Angus is a good dog. (But if you visit, bring earplugs.)
Follow all of Angus’ adventures at startribune.com/puppy.