The other day I was walking my dog, Riley, through the neighborhood when all of a sudden he slowed down and started creeping toward something he saw down the street. He walked very carefully, taking care not to scare off whatever it was he was hunting. He looked back from time to time to make sure I understood that we were now on a special assignment, and if we played our cards right, we’d be catching and bringing home dinner for the family. As we got closer, he would stop every few steps and raise his front paw to point toward his target. I can’t remember the last time I saw him so focused (concentration is not a strong point for either of us). When he got within a few feet of our prey, he charged toward it, apparently in an effort to flush it out so I could shoot it with my… house key? iPod? He was disappointed with my inability to finish the job, and even more frustrated when he realized that he had, in fact, been stalking a Styrofoam cooler.
The whole episode was an embarrassing debacle but it got me thinking once again about what kind of dog Riley is. His paperwork from the Humane Society listed him as a German Shepherd, but that was obviously a clerical error. I try to observe his behavior to look for clues as to what he might be. Watching him track down the cooler, I wondered if he’s mixed with some kind of hunting dog. He’s shaped and sized like a border collie, but doesn’t have the brains or intensity to back that up. His orange coat must come from somewhere.The only reason I ponder this is because I am often stopped on the street by someone who wants to compliment Riley (he is very handsome), and they always ask what kind of dog he is. When I tell them I have no idea, some of them look at me with horror, like I am a lazy parent who just never bothered to figure out anything about my dog. The truth is, I don’t know anything about the first year of Riley’s life. I don’t know who he lived with, what his name was, or how he was treated. I know he didn’t go outside a lot, because when I first saw him the pads of his feet were perfectly pink and soft. But who his parents were? No idea.
Ultimately, I don’t care about Riley’s mix of breeds. One of the things I like best about adopting animals from shelters is that you can’t always predict what you are going to be in for when you bring them home. So, from now on when people ask me what kind of dog he is, I have a new answer: He is the sweet, goofy, loyal kind- but don’t count on his hunting skills to put food on the table.