Doodle Dandy — But is it Mutual?

Sierra50

Is that an “I love you” face, or “treats, please”.

We’re pretty bummed every time we leave a pet-sit. I’ve even been known to blubber like a baby saying adios to our fleeting, fuzzy-faced friends. Right now we’re caring for a gorgeous golden doodle, one of the most friendly, laid-back, lovable, smart dogs we’ve ever cared for, named Sierra (watch out Kahlua, you’ve got some tough competition for grooviest golden ever!).

In addition to being called Dudes, Groodles and Golden Poos, they’re also referred to as “designer dogs” because they were developed in the mid-90s as guide dogs for the blind with allergies. A cross between a golden retriever and a standard poodle, it’s the poodle part that’s supposed to make these pooches hypoallergenic. But some experts maintain there’s no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic dog; that it’s a certain protein in the dog’s skin that causes the allergy. And, well, all dogs have skin.

Sierra14

How will she not miss our days at the beach?

But there are certainly some breeds that shed less and have less dander. Take the Obamas’ first choice for First Dog, a Portu-guese water dog. First daughter Malia is allergic and the water dog is low-shedding. Apparently, the family also considered getting a labradoodle (close cousin of the golden doodle), but, alas, none suitable could be found so Bo was a go.

After three weeks with Sierra, we can see why these breeds are also used as therapy dogs. She’s so patient and tolerant, unflappable and serene. She doesn’t bark, but makes a strange growl sound — when she’s excited. She runs up to every stranger on the street as if they’re her long-lost friend (although, truth be told, she’s learned some humans carry yummy things in their pockets).

Sierra74.If she’d inherited more of the retriever in her she’d make a good bird dog. Judging by her look of “huh?” when you throw her a ball, she’s definitely got more poodle in her. That’s not to say she’s untrained; she’s one of the most obedient dogs we’ve ever sat. In fact, both retrievers and poodles are listed as the top 5 most trainable dogs by the American Kennel Club, so if you’ve put two and two together, you get double the duty. (We just have to work on her willful ways of insisting on sniffing every square inch of ground on our walks — a level of attention that would bore a bloodhound.) Sierra never steps through a doorway without being invited; she won’t eat unless given the OK; she stands patiently as her feet are wiped before setting foot in the house; she respects an invisible line drawn at the kitchen that says do not enter; and, halleluja! she’s the first dog we’ve ever sat that doesn’t beg or lurk at the table. We will miss her!

Sierra75But will she miss us? Maybe after we’ve been gone an hour; after that, we’re history in her mind. Researchers at a Swedish university studied how animals process the passage of time when they’re left alone and, it turns out, it seems the longer they’re left, the cooler they are with it. The study found that after two hours, dogs greeted their owners with more intensity than after just 30 minutes of being left alone. But there was no difference in the dogs’ reaction between two and four hours, which suggests that dogs can tell the difference between 30 minutes and two hours, but beyond that, not so much.

Sierra82But they love us, right? Hogwash, claims author Jon Katz, who’s written on the bond between humans and canines (although you have to be suspicious of anyone claiming to be a dog expert with a name like Katz). “Dogs don’t ‘miss’ you when you go away,” Katz told the Chicago Tribune in 2009. “They might get anxious and confused, but don’t mistake that for loneliness or mourning. As soon as they find someone else to take care of them, they forget you pretty quickly. Dogs develop very strong, instinctive attachments to the people who feed and care for them. Over 15,000 years of domestication, they’ve learned to trick us into thinking that they love us.”

Sierra5.

When you gaze at your doorstep, do you picture us there?

Not only do our dogs not love us, this idea of “unconditional love” is malarkey too, says Katz. According to him, they’re master manipulators. “Their attachment is, in fact, extremely conditional,” he says. “They’ll respond to anyone who gives them food and attention. I have a wonderful Labrador retriever who’s very happy here. But if you had hamburger meat on you, she’d gladly go to Chicago with you and never look back.” That may be true of Katz’s dog, but we’re going to stick with the delusion that Sierra — and all the pets we’ve sat — will miss us. If only for an hour.

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4 thoughts on “Doodle Dandy — But is it Mutual?

  1. Hi Robin and Rick,

    great insights to the dog world. We love your posts, reading it now to Kahlua and she has that look of “I know there is a cookie in this for me”.

    Best regards, Bill and Barbara

  2. I know that they miss you when you are leave, since the doggies tell me all about the sitters that they like and why,,,,,AND the sitters that they do not like and why. And from what Kaluha and Rufus told me the year that Bill was not bringing them up to California,,,that if they got to stay with the two of you, then they would be fine with staying home. You are both very special and do not fit in the category that KATZ has shown us in his work. Let’s just say the animals are blessed to have met you. Barbara Martin, Animal Communication Plus

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