J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 5-28-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 5-28-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

I have several farmer and rancher friends who are in their late 60s and early 70s, which makes them “mere pups” from the perspective of my octogenarian associates. But, because I’m still in my early 60s, I consider them “my older friends.”

Some of these older friends have a little dog who goes everywhere with them. The little dog is on their lap when they drive around in their pickup, and if you get in on the passenger’s side, many of these small dogs will bark, growl, or even nip at you ferociously.

Invariably, the owner holds the creature back, saying something like, “S/he won’t hurt you. S/he’s just a pest.” Or, they might even say, “S/he isn’t really like that. S/he might lick you to death, but that’s about it.”

Somehow, I don’t find the prospect of death by licking to have any particular advantage over death by tooth and claw. One time I was nipped by one of these little dogs, which the master thought amusing.

When visiting small-dog-masters in their shop or living room, the small dog is there, dependable as the dawn, jumping around, making noise while receiving a slurry of orders from its master to sit and be quiet, orders which are utterly unheeded. And when the master sits in a chair or sofa, the little dog jumps up on his lap and looks at everyone else as acknowledged inferiors.

I can understand having a small dog as a companion, and I don’t want to criticize another person’s dog. My problem is that many of these small dogs don’t seem to be very companionly. They’re not particularly handsome, and many of them are nervous, noisy, and for the most part, annoying to everyone except their exceedingly tolerant master.

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One of my older friends allowed his small dog, a miniature bulldog, to sleep at the foot of his bed, on top of the blankets. But one night, the dog somehow wandered to the head of the bed, and then crept under the sheets and blankets and wormed his way down to the foot of the bed. When my friend woke up and felt fur at his feet, his natural reaction was to kick, which engaged the dog’s defenses, resulting in my friend needing a significant number of stitches in his feet.

My friend, of course, blamed himself for kicking the dog, not the dog for worming to the bottom of the bedworks. And, the dog resumed his privileged spot at the foot of the bed, and went everywhere with his master.

After hearing this story, I began to wonder if there might be some correlation between the personality of the small dog chosen by the master, and something in their personality that could only be expressed by the dog. As civilized humans, we do our best to sit still when agitated, and we no longer growl when aggrieved or bite when angered.

It might be that mastering a small dog to do one’s primitive bidding gives new meaning to a “man’s best friend.”