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Mr. and Mrs. Dog

Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies

Donald McCaig
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Mr. and Mrs. Dog
    Book Description:

    TheNew York Times-bestselling author Donald McCaig has established an expansive literary career, founded equally on books about working sheepdogs and the Civil War novelsJacob's LadderandRhett Butler's People,the official sequel toGone with the Wind.

    In his new book,Mr. and Mrs. Dog,McCaig draws on twenty-five years of experience raising sheepdogs to vividly describe his-and his dogs June and Luke's-unlikely progress toward and participation in the World Sheepdog Trials in Wales.

    McCaig engagingly chronicles the often grueling experience-through rain, snow, ice storms, and brain-numbing heat-of preparing and trialing Mrs. Dog, June, "a foxy lady in a slinky black-and-white peignoir," and Mr. Dog, Luke, "a plain worker-no flash to him." Along the way, he relays sage advice from his decades spent talking with America's most renowned dog experts, from police-dog trainers to positive-training gurus.

    As readers of McCaig's novels will expect,Mr. and Mrs. Dogdelivers far more than straightforward dog-training tips. Revealing an abiding love and respect for his dogs, McCaig unveils the life experiences that set him on the long road to the Welsh trial fields. Starting with memories of his first dog, Rascal, and their Montana roadtrip in a '48 Dodge, McCaig leads us into his thirties, when he abandons his New York advertising career to move to a run-down Appalachian sheep farm in the least populous county in Virginia. This 1960s agrarian adventure ultimately brings McCaig, Luke, and June to the Olympics of sheepdog trials. In his narration of one man's love for his dogs, McCaig offers a powerful portrayal of the connection between humans and their animal companions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3451-8
    Subjects: History, Zoology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  3. West Texas
    (pp. 1-12)

    I am a visionary. Not the “visionary” CEO grinning from the cover of your seatback magazine, much less a Joseph Smith or Isaiah. I am a runofthemill visionary: plain vanilla. When I was younger, I didn’t discriminate between visions produced by decades of spiritual discipline and visions got by swallowing a pill. I became a pharmacological tourist in the iridescent world where William Blake communed with angels.

    Visions are not created equal. Some altered the way I saw the world, others how I feared it. Some of the best were funny. I recall one fine fall afternoon in Detroit’s inner...

  4. The Education of a Dog Man
    (pp. 13-18)

    The dogcatcher was the most hated man in my hometown. In the 1940s and ’50s Butte, Montana, was a oneindustry mining town. If you didn’t want to go down the holes, jobs were scarce and town jobs were real plums. But Butte’s dogcatcher was appointed in a closed meeting of the city council and his name wasn’t revealed. Despite these precautions, pretty soon everybody knew which sonofabitch had the dirty job and most dogcatchers only lasted a month or two. It wasn’t the slashed tires on the (unmarked) official van that forced them out. It was the slashed tires on...

  5. Overcoming the Home Court Advantage
    (pp. 19-22)

    To most people, “sheep” is synonymous with “stupid.” Murrow’s “a nation of sheep” is no compliment. Yet, to my knowledge, no sheep in North America believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. None invested with Bernie Madoff.

    These tests aside, sheep are extremely good at being sheep. They bed down on high ground and post sentries for predator alerts. Mamas teach their lambs to shun poisonous plants, and sheep are much better than we at evaluating dogs. The same sheep that will quietly go where directed by an experienced sheepdog will break fences in a panic if an unruly...

  6. Mr. and Mrs. Dog
    (pp. 23-28)

    It was one of those fine, clear fall days when grimy old Manhattan is beautiful. Water taxis buzzed past the Hudson River Park, lovers of every persuasion made private spaces for billing and cooing. Children dashed, joggers puffed, and tai chi practitioners emulated herons. The dogs and I had found some shade. The pot dealer did a double take when he spotted Luke and June snoozing at my feet. “Them two, they brother and sister?”

    “Dog and wife,” I replied.

    He nodded. Uhhuh.

    I bought June when she was thirteen months old. I’d been seeking a started sheepdog when Florence...

  7. What Your Dog Is Trained to Do and Why
    (pp. 29-36)

    Your dog: what do you want from him? Do you want him to heel, on and off leash, at your left side? When you say “Come!” do you want him to race to you, spin, and sit beside you facing forward? Do you expect him to lie down at a distance? To sit still for five minutes with you out of the room? Do you expect instant obedience to a single command?

    Chances are, like most dog owners you may want moredon’tsthandos. Don’tpoop in the house!Don’ttopple elderly Aunt Hattie with your too enthusiastic greeting!...

  8. The Trainer’s Trainer
    (pp. 37-46)

    Most dogs like to be fondled by total strangers about as much as most humans do. But like humans, dogs can be trained to tolerate fondling and some learn to seek it. Every species has its “happy hookers,” and before her first literary event I’d hoped June might be such a one.

    June had her literary inauguration at eighteen months old when I gave a reading in a southwest Virginia library. While I recited my peerless prose June schmoozed the audience. She was maybe too devoted to her work. June wouldn’t give it a rest.

    The event organizers had offered...

  9. A Desperate Gamble
    (pp. 47-50)

    Like William Blake’sSongs of Innocence,the appeal of sheepdog trialing is simplicity: nothing exists outside your run. Debts, sins, bad health, marital difficulties, all those insults life so willingly provides: disappeared. Donald’s ego dies into the intricate, fluid man/dog/sheep task. Trialing is serial immortalities; each run, eternity in an hour.

    Alas, there’s nothing simple about simplicity.

    The National Finals Sheepdog Trials is the North American sheepdog Super Bowl. The trial rotates between the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast, on different fields, under different conditions, with fresh (undogged) sheep. Sheepdog trials are both sport and genetic strategy. Countless farm...

  10. The E-collar
    (pp. 51-59)

    In the second grade, I was introduced to addition, subtraction, and basic multiplication. The teacher taught with flashcards. She’d hold up a card:





    and ask some unfortunate student to supply the answer. I stuttered my best guess: “Uh? Fiftysix?”

    Whereupon the teacher would flip the card to reveal the answer I’d failed to compute. “Yes, Donald. Five plus six equals eleven. You really must try harder.”

    The harder I tried, the fewer correct answers I got. My wild guesses provoked giggles from girls who got the right answer every time.

    Then I made a lifealtering discovery:...

  11. Mrs. Dog Buys Our Ticket
    (pp. 60-71)

    The National Finals Sheepdog Trials began at noon on Tuesday, September 18, in a fortyacre field outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One hundred fifty dogs would be winnowed to forty, who’d then compete in the semifinals Saturday. The best seventeen of those would run on Sunday for the championship. If Luke or June reached that magical top seventeen, we’d be on the United States Team to compete in the World Trials. If either Mister or Missus got into the semifinals, we still had a shot.

    The outrun was 470 yards across a rumpled field with a deep gully after the lift (the...

  12. Behaviorism
    (pp. 72-80)

    Traditional dog training is anecdotal. Bill Koehler believed dog behavior was profoundly ethical, and Vicki Hearne elaborated on Koehler’s theory, but most traditional trainers are simple pragmatists, and success with a difficult dog trumps epistemology every time. To date, ecollar trainers are pretheoretical: no thinker has explained how the new variableintensity ecollar helps a dog learn.

    The traditional pet training curriculum wasn’t formalized until the eve of World War II, and expanded in postwar suburbs where veterans wanted a wife, a house, two children, a Chevy, and a family dog—preferably a purebred dog. Most prominent dog trainers, like Koehler,...

  13. Positive Trainer Pat Miller
    (pp. 81-87)

    A certificate from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers states that Pat Miller is a certified pet dog trainer, and another from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior says she is a certified dog behavioral consultant. Beside the certificates in Miller’s training room is a photograph taken when Miller was a uniformed animal control officer for the Marin County, California, SPCA. The young woman in the photo is sternly beautiful, and some years later Miller is an unusually handsome woman.

    The animal welfare connection continues. Pat’s husband, Paul, heads the county SPCA, and my first visit was abbreviated because...

  14. The Last Dog Still Standing
    (pp. 88-92)

    I’d run in five National Finals but reached the semifinals only once and never gotten through to the finals—the top 17 dogs. At the 1994 Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, I’d been out by only 2 points.

    More handlers are winnowed in the qualifying round—110 of 150—than during the semifinals: 23 out, 17 in. Though the better handlers and dogs get most of the luck there’s a little left for me and June, and I had almost a 50/50 chance of getting into the Finals, which would certainly qualify us for the United States Team.

    That’s all June...

  15. Listening to Dr. Dodman
    (pp. 93-99)

    Are you Max’s?” The vet tech smiled at me.

    I shook my head no. I didn’t think I belonged to any dog, but I if I did, I’d probably be Luke’s, presently in the car, or June’s. She was beside me in the reception room of Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals.

    June eyed the big and little pet dogs and their humans. June yawned. June didn’t want Donald to be hers: she had enough on her plate. Besides, how would she feed him?

    A slightly embarrassed human confessed he was indeed Max’s and followed the tech to the...

  16. Some Epiphanies
    (pp. 100-103)

    Since rounding up goats in West Texas last winter, Mr. and Mrs. Dog and I had put thirty thousand miles on the station wagon, from the Dakotas to New Hampshire to my calling June in on the wrong sheep at Gettysburg. That particular mistake knocked us out of the top seventeen, and walking off with a minute remaining (retired: score zero) might have bumped us off the United States Team. Sure, retiring spared June and the sheep—sixty seconds’ worth. June and I had had a pretty good score until I quit.

    Lucky for us, next year’s National Finals Sheepdog...

  17. Ethology
    (pp. 104-108)

    Joe Mazeros was the finest practical ethologist I’ve ever known. He escaped from Hungary during the 1956 revolution and claimed he descended from a long line of successful poachers. How could he know they were successful? “In Hungary, the penalty for poaching was castration.”

    Last fall we’d planted alfalfa in our riverside field, but it hadn’t established a stand. Our farm routinely feeds deer, but come April the deer infestation was serious, and when a deer eats the crown of a young alfalfa plant it dies.

    The game warden gave me a permit to shoot five deer with a restriction:...

  18. Drives
    (pp. 109-115)

    Now that we actually were on the United States Team, I needed to face the alarming forms that would allow me and the Mister and Missus into Britain. I had to involve my vet and figure travel arrangements.

    Instead, we three played hooky.

    When Wendy Volhard and her dogs crossed the bridge into the meadow she wasn’t happy to meet Luke and June. “I certainly hope those dogs are trained to offleash standard,” she said. Her small Labrador (mix?) was on lead, but two small terriers weren’t and rushed Luke and June. “Hi! Hi! Hi! Call me Julie!”

    June’s hackles...

  19. A Thousand Yards
    (pp. 116-119)

    It’s easier (and cheaper) to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle than to fly two fortyfive pound dogs to Britain. DEFRA-approved air carriers accepted dogs as cargo, US to the UK, at $860 one way. Per dog. Plus kennel costs in the UK and the owner’s ticket and expenses over there. It looked like $4,000–$5,000.

    Or I could fly to Paris (my ticket plus $600 round trip for both dogs as excess baggage) and enter the UK on the DEFRAapproved Calais/Dover ferry ($150 round trip). Hmmm.

    Our trip must satisfy three sets of regulations: the French,...

  20. One More River to Cross
    (pp. 120-126)

    I’d forgotten one teensy-weensy detail. The last thing one does before flying dogs to the UK is get a tick treatment (Advantix preferred) and a tapeworm pill (must contain praziquantel), which your vetmustadminister twenty-four hours but not fortyeight hours before the dog is accepted at the port of entry. My vet did so at exactly 1608 EDT, 27 August.

    What with calculating EDT (eastern daylight), CEST (central European summer), and BST (British standard) time zones, I’d forgotten Air France, which would fly Luke, June, and moi from Dulles: checkin at 1345 EDT, 28 August, takeoff at 1645 EDT...

  21. “That’s a Good Boy”
    (pp. 127-131)

    Unlike dog shows and obedience matches, no autocracy determines who can judge a sheepdog trial. The trial host hires who he wants. Since the judge may be judging his neighbor, the fellow he sold an expensive dog to last week, or even his own spouse, the judge’s reputation in the sheepdog community is the only check on all too human frailties.

    As it happens the concern for reputation among one’s peers ensures fairness at least as well as formal rules. Complaints about dogshow judging are common as dirt. Complaints about sheepdog judging are rarely heard.

    David Rees has judged hundreds...

  22. “It Can’t Have Been Easy to Arrange”
    (pp. 132-134)

    The next day David Rees and I drove to David Streeter’s steading. Streeter is a landscaper and, David Rees told me, “a demon for work.” Although Streeter rarely took a day off, today was his birthday and his wife had insisted.

    The Streeters’ steading was protected by two perfectly hung iron gates. It had rained more during the night; the fields were soggy and Streeter’s quarteracre pond was toffee colored. The bungalow was bigger than most singlefamily Welsh homes. Streeter had built it himself, one room at a time, as he could afford materials. He’d not borrowed a penny.


  23. Welsh Roads (A Rant)
    (pp. 135-138)

    For a thousand years men battled over Welsh soil. Fertilized by men’s blood, every inch of it is precious, and very, very little is devoted to roads. Driving home one evening outside Nantgaredig, my headlights picked up a woman rolling a stroller on the shoulder, which was all of two feet wide. Her husband preceded her and the family’s Border Collie preceded him. I swung wide around this suicidal procession.

    Welsh village sidewalks are so narrow, lovers walk in single file. On some, Romeo and Juliet sidle along sideways.

    British “M” roads are like US interstates interrupted by occasional roundabouts...

  24. Hafod Bridge
    (pp. 139-143)

    Like other foreign handlers who’d compete at the World Trials, I was desperate to trial on Welsh Mountain Sheep. If practice was necessary, trials were more so. At a sheepdog trial one’s every unexamined presumption, lazy understanding, or egogratifying misreading of dog and/or sheep invites swift retribution.

    Some local trials were within driving distance and there’d be special trials for foreign World Trials competitors before the official World Trials whoopdedo.

    My Gilcrug hosts drove me into town where I picked up a replacement rental car.

    “Do you have a skinnier car?” I asked dismayed.

    “The Vauxhall’s all we have at...

  25. Fifteen Minutes of Fame
    (pp. 144-148)

    On bad days I think I trial sheepdogs to shorten my time in purgatory. I was thinking such thoughts at 5:30 a.m. while crossing Welsh mountains in the fog. The roads hadn’t improved but at least I couldn’t see them. David Rees had advised, “When you get to Penybont village, just ask. Everybody knows Glynn Owens.”

    More fog. More mountains. I missed Anne. I missed my farm. I missed my own bed.

    American handlers envy the Brits for their numerous local trials. Ours are hours, sometimes days apart. I intended to run at two trials today. After the Penybont trial,...

  26. The Standard
    (pp. 149-152)

    Judges call off (DQ) handlers for grips, abusing the sheep, dog off course, failure to progress, and inept work. When a trial is overbooked, after the first dozen runs the judge will call handlers off after they’ve lost an arbitrary number of points. If that “standard” doesn’t relieve overbooking, the judge will raise it and call a handler off if he misses one panel. As a last resort, after the judge has seen six good runs, he will call you off the instant you lose so many points you cannot beat or tie the lowest of the six.

    At most...

  27. The Dogs’ Sabbath
    (pp. 153-155)

    The next day dawned dry and fine. Wales shook itself like a wet dog and became a green and pleasant land.

    Enough was enough. Mr. and Mrs. Dog had endured too many highstress days.

    Yeah, I know: they’re only dogs. Yep, life is stress. Would you have done as well as they did? They’d been bodyrolled (helpless!) by dogignorant TSA strangers, before being bundled into the black, noisy hold of an airliner. Twelve hours later, they’d been loaded into an unstable luggage heap and trundled through thousands of humans that didn’t sound, look, or smell like any humans they’d previously...

  28. The Parade of Flags and Dogs
    (pp. 156-158)

    Dinefwr Country Park is an eighthundredacre estate with a grand manor house and the ruins of Dinefwr Castle looming over what would be June’s qualifying field. I never visited either building.

    I buzzed right past hundreds of Welsh historic sites. Wales is famous for trout streams, craggy hills, and sublime vistas. I cursed the narrow bridges over the streams and wished I could work the sheep I spotted on the hills.

    Sheepdog trialing fills up the brain. There’s only enough room left for laughter.

    When British sheepdoggers come to the States to judge, they get to see: (1) their host’s...

  29. Bad Sheep
    (pp. 159-164)

    A scot muttered, “I’ve been coming to Wales for sixty years and I’ve never seen so much rain.”

    Every Welsh man and woman I’d met at the smaller trials was working the World Trials today. There were food kiosks (my favorite: “Mobile Indian Cuisine”), a Renault exhibit, crook makers, a cider and perry maker, and an outdoors clothing tent Carhart might have envied. One could buy Australian boots or Border Collie figurines, and the big crowds wouldn’t be here until the weekend. Land Rover was the lead sponsor and probably you could have bought one of their cars, but it...

  30. Eternity in an Hour
    (pp. 165-172)

    Luke was out of the running. June would decide if we got through to the semifinals. How many miles had it been? How many trials on how many fields? How many training sessions? The Latin root of “hallucination” is “alucinatus”: “to dream.”

    I can’t watchAntiques Roadshowor the Super Bowl without marveling at our ability to care about zipshit. Two million dollars for a pasteboard baseball card? A $27 million annual paycheck for a person uncommonly skilled at hurling a fourteenounce football? Our visions are more important than cat scans. All we featherless bipeds yearn to hold eternity in...

  31. Only a Dog
    (pp. 173-176)

    You didn’t know how much you cared. Hell, she was only a dog. Nothing special. A Heinzy — 57 varieties. Just a mutt.

    But she . . .

    Six months after your dog died you still can’t talk about her. You turn your face away, embarrassed by your tears.

    Only a dog.

    On a particularly bleak morning Anne told me, “I wake up and Zippy’s gone and I wish I was dead too.”

    “Only a dog”: that stupid heartless diminutive came straight from the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran.

    Why did the ancient Semites seek to disrupt that profound...

  32. Your Dog
    (pp. 177-185)

    I wish I could meet your dog. I hope these stories remind you of him. I hope reading about Luke and June helps you see your dog a little better.

    Ralph Pulfer was a sheepdog genius: his life was dogs. In fifty years, he won hundreds of trials. I once saw Ralph handle a young dog through a trial though the dog had never been taught commands. Ralph got him around the course using the dog’s name, intoning “Tweed” so variously, that name was adequate dog grammar and vocabulary.

    Not long before Ralph died, a handler asked him, “Ralph, how...

  33. First Friends
    (pp. 186-187)

    The morning after June and I didn’t qualify for the semifinals of the World Sheepdog Trials was cool and foggy.

    I didn’t attend the semifinals. The dogs and I hiked across sand dunes toward the distant beach. Other dogwalkers appeared and disappeared in the fog but none came near. It was a morning for mistakes, for getting turned around and walking miles and miles and miles through the sand.

    If visions are not created equal, I suppose mine had been one of the better ones.

    The Mister and Missus explored. The tide was out and shorebirds patrolled and pecked in...

  34. The Double Lift
    (pp. 188-194)

    Sunday was clear; no fog and the light was incandescent. The dogs and I drove to Llandielo for the finals of the World Sheepdog Trials. At important trials, the ultimate competition is the “double lift,” and the World Trials would be no exception. The double lift is the most difficult test of a sheepdog. We ask the dogs to do more than they can and those that manage are asked to do the nearly impossible.

    Dinefwr Park had dried out. Luke, June, and I were parked by pleasant volunteers wearing vests with “Steward” on the front and “Sorry for the...

  35. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 195-195)
  36. Back Matter
    (pp. 196-196)