Watoga Trail Report

Bongo steadfastly refusing to take the lead with Daisy in the background. K. Springer photo

Is my dog a male chauvinist?
A dog tale about people
“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out, and your dog would go in.”  ~ Mark Twain
In the annals of male chauvinism, dogs are seldom, if ever, mentioned. Accurate as the statement may be, that does not absolve my male dog of repeatedly committing blatant acts of misogyny when he and Daisy are trail running with me.

Daisy came to me 10 years ago through a friend affiliated with a dog rescue group. A Christmas present for a young child who wished for a puppy, the parents were shocked that she didn’t come out of the womb housebroken and know how to “sit,” “fetch,” “rollover” and pee in the toilet.

Once the Christmas tree’s bare skeleton was set out on the curb and after New Year’s Day came and went, the puppy’s cuteness wore off and she was taken to an animal shelter. An all too familiar story.

Bongo was born in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas in 2016. From my experience in that part of the world, it may, in part, account for his John Wayne bravado and headstrong ways, although, much to my delight, he has given up the practice of chewing tobacco in favor of chewing rawhide strips.

Bongo lived for a short while in a rescue home in Missouri before he found his way to me. His brief stay in the Show-Me state engendered a certain sense of independence that seems to be quite common there. Much like in Alaska, where one popular bumper sticker proclaims, “We Don’t Care How It’s Done Down There in the Lower 48.” Visitors, beware of offering unsolicited opinions while in the 49th state.

I have tried my very best to teach Bongo to respect all breeds, genders and sexual orientations of other canines. I understand the nature vs nurture debate argues that certain traits are genetically determined, like sniffing another dog’s rear upon meeting.

And that makes perfectly good sense when you think about it. After all, shaking paws is not congruent with the physical configuration of a dog’s extended foreleg. And the lack of an opposable thumb would render a paw shake quite awkward at best.

To not impose any measure of unrealistic anthropomorphism upon my dogs, I have never tried to interfere with their instinctual behaviors, such as butt-sniffing. My human friends may be offended by such conduct.

If so, they may want to remember the time they were observed by another motorist picking their nose while behind the wheel, and their futile attempts at getting rid of the offending matter.

I am aware that dogs train their owners as much or more than we train them. I have attempted to train my dogs the basic commands with some success. I even went a little further, instilling behaviors that conform to etiquette’s general rules when dealing with other humans and dogs.

For example, my dogs never make fun of three-legged dogs, Chihuahuas or perhaps one whose bark is just a little too high-pitched. They are, in most social situations with other dogs and humans, quite sophisticated and respectful.

But, I have recently noticed a rather disturbing behavior from Bongo when we are out running or working on trails.

As you may know, trails are by definition narrow footpaths, requiring the three of us to proceed in single file. It was established early on that Bongo, being the largest of the two dogs, and the most observant, would be the natural choice as lead dog.

I come along next, carrying all of the necessary trail tools, and more importantly, the “treats.” The tail-gunner is Daisy, who is considerably older than Bongo and tends to dawdle a bit.

She also seems to enjoy being in the rear. And, being considerably smarter than Bongo, anticipates the occasional encounter with rattlesnakes. “Why take any unnecessary risks with a muscle head around?” is her motto.

Bongo is a moody dog, and like all West Highland White Terriers, he is, as earlier stated, stubborn and willful. Over the last couple of weeks, he has taken to the irritating habit of falling back behind and refusing to take the lead. He digs in his heels like a braying mule and refuses to budge.

Bongo’s reluctance to lead would be understandable if we ran on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where Claymore Mines could be waiting on the path. But trip-wired mines are not a significant hazard on the Monongaseneka Trail at Watoga State Park; dog poop deposited smack dab in the middle of the trail being a much greater concern.

I tried everything to get him back on lead; treats, cajoling, begging, but nothing worked. That is until the day I thought, “OK if he won’t do his job, maybe Daisy will.” It only took the word “lead” and little Daisy immediately moved to the front, eager to show that she was just as capable as Bongo in blazing the way forward.

The effect it had on Bongo was as if he was being chased by a demon. He passed me at nearly the speed of light, and not only did he also pass Daisy, but with the flick of his butt knocked her completely off the trail. I knew right then that I had a sexist dog on my hands, a canine misogynist, a male chauvinist pooch.

In exasperation, I sent Bongo to a dog-training class on “Canine Diversity.” After dropping him off at the training facility in Lewisburg, I went to a local coffee shop to kill time until the class was over. I no sooner got a few sips into my Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino than my cell phone rang.

It was the dog trainer and she was incensed to say the least.

“Mr. Springer, I want you to come over here immediately and collect your dog,” she said. “In the first ten minutes of class, he sniffed my derriere no less than three times. Such insolent behavior will not be tolerated.”

It did not console her in the least bit when I asked “By derriere, do you mean your butt?” I thought using the word “derriere” was a little pretentious and offensive to my rural sensibilities. 

My retort did not help Bongo’s situation; he was expelled from school and banned from attending any future training classes.

In Bongo’s defense, his breed comes from the Highlands of Scotland. And with the exception of wearing skirts, the men of the high country are a bit macho and expect the same of their terriers.

That said, I have noticed some changes recently in Bongo’s relations with Daisy. He has started to show signs of becoming an enlightened male, and now he and Daisy take turns on lead.

I learn much more from my dogs than I can ever give back to them. At times, I am humbled by their capacity to love despite my many foibles. I may go so far as to say, that a dog can enlighten and advance any among us – save for the most unrepentant barbarian.

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” – Mark Twain

From the mountain trails of West Virginia,
Ken Springer

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