I am not going to lie—until I had my own puppy, I never quite understood about the appeal of pets. Don’t get me wrong—I value all living creatures. I even wrote a book about animals (click here). But as cute as puppies are, they are still animals. Did I really want an animal in my home? Not that I am the world’s best housekeeper, but aren’t animals kind of messy/dirty? Was I really willing to have my house turned into a giant kennel and have to deal with poop and pee?
Nonetheless, once we decided to get a puppy, no matter how hard I found it, I was determined to follow through with my commitment. And as my puppy’s personality started to shine—more on that in an upcoming post—it was interesting to see some genetically programmed behaviours alongside his own unique quirks.
A little bit of history: miniature Schnauzers were originally bred in Germany to catch rats and act as guard dogs on farms. It was not surprising, therefore, that one of Theo’s typical Schnauzer behaviours is to grab something with his teeth—that could be a blanket, toy, or sock—and shake his head vigorously back and forth as if it were a naughty vermin.
One of his more recent favourite toys is a small, mouse-sized yarn monkey. When I first introduced it to him, he quickly grabbed it by the leg and trotted back to his “home base” blanket, pawing and jawing it over and over. He has done the same when I first introduced a toy bone, bowtie stuffy, bottle, bully stick, ball, and more. Another behaviour I'm sure that is genetically inborn.
Bugs, bees, and ants also fascinate Theo. Woe to the bee that buzzes around his quick-snapping jaws! He loves to sniff and nuzzle teeny tiny ants—I think he licks them up (although we try to stop him before he does)! As for crawling insects, Theo will lie in a crouching position and when the time is right, suddenly lunges in attack. To that end, he reminds me of a tiger hunting its prey.
Then there’s the digging. I don’t have a dirt pile in our backyard, but he has done digging motions on his fleece blankets, our textured couch, and our hardwood floors. Terriers are natural hunting dogs that ancestrally dug for prey and food.
Like all dogs, Theo experiences 90% of his world through his olfactory and oral senses (nose and mouth). Out in our backyard, he constantly has his face down on the ground exploring around and around. It is hard to tell sometimes, when he stops moving, whether he is giving a particular spot a really good sniff or he’s found something to chew on. We have to watch him all the time!
Theo has very fast reflexes and is constantly on the alert. This makes him a good guard dog, as did his ancestors. From visually tracking and trying to catch a leaf fluttering in the wind, to making a lightning-fast dive when I accidentally drop a piece of food or paper on the floor, to seizing the opportunity to grab pretty well anything he shouldn’t the minute it comes within range, Theo reacts swiftly and decisively. The drawback is that he is hyper sensitive to sound; even when drowsy he will suddenly sit up if he hears someone at the door.
Dogs are pack animals, and Theo has clearly shown that he loves to be around others. This week as we started walking him around the block with his new harness—which works much better than using a collar and lead alone—he has enthusiastically greeted everyone we’ve met. He has little experience so far with other dogs, but that will come; we have to keep him “quarantined” still until he is fully immunized against the dreaded parvovirus.
The drawback with his sociability is that he can be very vocal if I leave him alone for more than a few minutes. This makes it hard to get any work done including housework and anything to do with my professional work. He is usually pretty good at amusing himself if, say, my husband and I are both in the kitchen making lunch or supper, or cleaning—that is, until he gets underfoot or starts nipping at our heels and toes to get our attention!
Dogs are “den” animals. Theo crates really well (stays by himself for two two-hour periods a day and overnight in a wire crate darkened by another blanket draped over it). I am grateful to get this reprieve during the daytime to at least try to get SOME work done!
But my favourite natural instinct of Theo’s is that not only does he acknowledge me as “master,” he sees me as “protector” and “mother” too. When contractors were dropping packages of new roofing tiles for a renovation on our roof, Theo was startled with each thud. I got down on all fours and he came and sat under the shelter of my “wings” (Psalm 17:8). I think it was a breakthrough moment for me to know that he trusted me to love and protect him.
Next week I’ll share some of Theo’s little quirks and why he makes me smile (even though he’s a lot of work!)
Please consider signing up for my newsletter at https://sallymeadows.com/sign-up.