Category Archives: Labrador Retriever

Lessons from the Lab: The Magic of Consistency

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It’s been five months since we welcomed Schooner and Katy into our lives.  Since then, we’ve drastically altered the rhythm of our days in order to nurture them and keep our belongings from ending up as chew toys.  We’ve cleaned up every kind of canine body waste, cajoled them through crate training, and unintentionally conditioned a salivary response to the iPhone camera. Through this process, I’m reminded of a Keith Cunningham quote,  “Ordinary things consistently done produce extraordinary results.”

Everyday, twice a day, we walk them.  During, we work on three simple commands: “Sit”, “Stay”, and “Leave it”.  There’s no trick to it, no professional dog trainer – just consistency.  The results have been fantastic. While they are technically still puppies, they can be trusted to follow our commands on and off the leash.  People we meet along our walks can hardly believe how young and well-behaved they are.

And so I’m left wondering…how much more I could accomplish in life if I just consistently practiced three simple skills twice daily?

Schooner: The First 6 Months

Katy: The First 6 Months

Lessons from My Lab: More Room in a Broken Heart

Puppy Love

Last month our thirteen year old black lab, Hobie, died; a huge loss made even more difficult since it followed the death of Splash, his mom, two years earlier at the age of fourteen. Dazed, Jack and I rambled around a suddenly empty house listening to the silence or imagining the jingle of a collar. I completely identified with the words of Paul Ferson on grieving a pet:

“Without dogs, our houses are cold receptacles for things. Dogs make a fire warmer with their curled presence. They wake us, greet us, protect us and ultimately carve a place in our hearts and our history. On reflection, our lives are often referenced in parts defined by the all-to-short lives of our dogs.”

Yesterday, we returned home from Columbia Cross Roads, PA with two adorable Endless Mountain Labrador puppies. At nine weeks old, litter mates Schooner (chocolate male) and Katy (black female) are goofy little bundles of energy. It’s been over a decade since we’ve had puppies so their antics enthrall me with joy alternated by intense worry. What if I’m not stern and consistent enough? What if they eat a plant/shoe/dish towel and choke to death? What if someone steals them? How long before I get a good night’s sleep?

Jack and Schooner

Caring for them is offering me the chance to live in the moment: Several (okay, many) times daily I pick them up just to breathe in the smell of sweet puppy breath and stare into their gentle, trusting eyes. Soon they’ll be too big for this so I cherish these daily miracles, even as their razor sharp teeth threaten to pierce my nose.

Splash’s and Hobie’s passing left a huge hole my life. As I piece it back together I’m reminded of a line from a Carly Simon song, “There’s more room in a broken heart.” Even as I mourn, chubby labby legs and fat, furry tummies begin to fill the empty spaces with an unconditional love only our can animals give.

Crate training Katy

Lessons from My Lab: Letting Go of the Leash

Hobie Roach (1999-2012)

Years ago, Jack and I lived in Port Aransas, TX, a small town on the northern tip of Mustang Island. One afternoon, we set off on our bikes with our two black labs, Splash and Hobie. I was flying down the road with Hobie gallumphing joyfully beside me. Jack and Splash followed slightly behind until Jack made a slight left into the University of Texas Marine Science Institute marina to take a closer look at a boat.

Since Jack’s the leader of our pack, both dogs also made a quick left.  Meanwhile, I’m unaware that Hobie has suddenly changed directions and is flying perpendicularly away from me.  Since he was on a retractable leash, he was also picking up speed.  If you’ve seen a water skier propelled outside the wake by a sudden turn of the boat, you know the trajectory I took.  Though I’d learned (mostly the hard way) to let go of a tow rope,  I was conditioned to hold tight to his leash.  He was still a puppy, albeit a 100lb one, and hadn’t yet learned the dangers of running toward other people, dogs, or into a road.  It was my job to teach and protect him.  There was no way I was letting go of that leash – no matter how hard he pulled.

Once the leash’s slack ran out, so did my luck.  I launched off my bike into the air thinking, this is really gonna hurt. Then…impact with the curb and a sound like a branch breaking.  An intense bomb of pain exploded on my left side as the bike fell on top of me.  Ouch, that was worse than I thought.

A broken hip landed me in the hospital for a couple of weeks and it was months before I could walk again, take a shower, or use a toilet instead of a bed pan.  A year earlier I’d run the New York City marathon; now, I wasn’t sure I’d ever walk without a limp again.

Hobie taught me a life lesson that day – sometimes it is better to let go.  Letting go of what I think I must protect, control, or manage is extremely difficult for me. So as I try to master this lesson, life keeps offering me the opportunity to learn it.

Once again, Hobie is my teacher:  He passed away unexpectedly last month at the age of 13.  One day we’re taking a brisk 3-mile walk, the next thing we know –  he’s gone. What did I/didn’t I do?  Could I have protected him more? Cared for him better? I’ll never know.  And the questions have been driving me crazy.

We got his ashes back from the vet a few weeks ago.  With his collar they’ve been placed gently in a special compartment of an urn he shares with Splash’s ashes.  And so again, I’m learning…failing…trying again…to let go of his leash.