Playing with an old dog

This morning I looked at Banner, lying down in the living room, and she stared at me across the sofa. I use the word “stared” but, in reality, Banner (at 13) only sees shapes and movement.

I gave her a little huff sound, and waited for her to get up and start following me. I walked around behind the furniture and she followed, giving her little huffing noises (“this is fun!”).  When she arrived at the spot I’d occupied she hesitated for a fraction of a second before continuing to follow me around in a circle behind the furniture.

At one point I stopped moving, had the windows behind me, and she froze looking right at me. When I didn’t move she turned away and walked to the bathroom to check if I was there. By not moving I had disappeared for her. When she returned from her trip to the bathroom I huffed again and she trotted around the furniture to catch me.

This time I told her what a good girl she was and stayed put. She barked, huffed, mouthed my hands, bumped her butt into my legs (she’s an aussie, afterall), and generally looked delighted to have played a game with her Mommy.

I think it will become part of my daily life with Banner. She knows how to “find Mom,” and it would be a terrific exercise for her to play hide-and-seek with me, or tag as we did this morning. Of course, this is when the young dogs are locked away where they can’t take over the game and bump the old girl out of position.

Good times!  And one more great memory of Banner for the future. She was my ONLY puppy ever. I got Banner on Memorial Day in 1996 and named her Imagineer’s Patriot Red after a color of glass produced by my (then) employer, Fenton Art Glass Company. I really loved the bicentennial colors Fenton produced and decided to name dogs “Patriot Red,” “Independence Blue,” and “Valley Forge White.”

Banner taught me about positive reinforcement training for competition obedience, she was my wild child when I met Bud and was the beneficiary of my learning agility from him. She was hopelessly challenged with USDAA 26″ jump bars and 6-foot A-frames, and was the dog on whom I experimented for many years.

When Banner was 9 years old she attended the CPE Nationals in Michigan as a “come along” dog. I had no expectations for her, just thought she’d enjoy the trip. Every time she ran I’d return to our truck and Bud would say, “how did Banner do?”  “Well, hell has frozen over and Banner ran clean,” I’d reply. Day after day, run after run, Banner ran clean while I was busy concentrating on Dash’s negative reaction to electronic timers.

On the last afternoon I meandered over to the awards area thinking that, perhaps, Banner had won something in the “toothless, swayback, old-dog division.” I was a little peeved to discover that she was actually having to compete with all the young, healthy dogs in the 20″ division (though she was running at 16″).  Even with all the great dogs running at 20″ Banner was listed in 3rd or 4th place.

We drove home through horrible weather — it was 100 degrees when we left Michigan and, in Toledo, we were met with high winds and tornado warnings. Two days after arriving home I received an e-mail from Linda Eickhold that, after a recalculation of the stats, Banner had actually WON the 20″ division for level 4 standard. It was the highlight of Banner’s agility career, and she had shown a level of consistency I’d not seen when she was young.

A year later I was heading to the Aussie Nationals in St. Louis and, once again, decided to take Banner along as her “last road trip.” She was entered in novice preferred, jumping 16″, and had a great weekend. As I was packing my truck I heard the announcement that Banner had won the preferred jumpers division, with the fastest YPS in the preferred field of aussies.

Both of these are minor wins by most people’s standards, I’m sure, but — for Banner and I — these were milestones and gave me great memories of a dog who always had the will, but who struggled with the physical requirements, of competition agility and obedience.

Banner went on to rally training, earned 7 legs in 7 attempts, won her “B” classes regularly, even though she couldn’t see very well. I was preparing to finish her rally excellent title when, in practice, she showed me she couldn’t do all the sits required. Banner retired 2 years ago and has been my treasured old lady ever since.

She has been the queen of the house for about 9 years (since 2000, right before Brandi died).The crown hasn’t rested easily on her head and she struggled with royal demeanor. Now it appears Red (my 5-year-old aussie bitch) is preparing to de-throne her. I expect a peaceful transfer of control. Red has begun with an occasional “hard stare” when Banner stumbles into her, though she quickly recovers and softens when she realizes who bumped her.

Just last week one of the other dogs bumped Banner and Red immediately corrected the offending canine. In my mind that’s the definition of a queen bitch — protecting the aged, teaching the young, and providing a calming effect over the pack.

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3 Responses to “Playing with an old dog”

  1. Michelle Says:

    What a great snapshot of Banner. Elvis is my first puppy. I got him at 5 months old. All my previous dogs joined my home as adults. It is definately a different experience. I hope to have some memories of Elvis as you do of Banner. My first agility dog, Mollie, was my best teacher so far. She was the queen of our pack ( Mollie, Starr and Charlie, then Presley after Charlie died) and now with just Elvis and Presley ( 14 months and 6 1/2 years) the dynamics are changing, seems like everyday!
    Love your blog Marsha, glad you started it!

  2. 2mindogtrainer Says:

    Thanks for the great comment, Michelle! Pack dynamics are fascinating when you get a bunch of dogs living with you. It’s more entertaining than television, watching them posture and assume different facial expressions, depending on whether they’re communicating with an older dog, a younger dog, or me.

  3. Erica Says:

    The older dogs are SO grateful for any attention. Benny, one of our senior Britts, had lost a rear leg and was progressively less mobile as the opposite leg gave way to time. On days when we could see he wasn’t happy, a little game would really brighten his spirits. I used to get down on the floor and play wtih him with a cat hand puppet. He got such a kick out of attacking it – “Benny the Fierce” we’d call him – his neck would arch, his eyes would shine. It’s easy to play with the young and agile dogs who demand attention, and unfortunately equally easy to just let the older quiet souls exist. I love the fact you aren’t willing to let that happen with Banner.

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