Rusty has aspirations. He aims high. Of course, when you’re 18 inches tall, almost any goal seems high from your perspective.
Rusty wants to be the toughest, most macho Cocker Spaniel in the neighborhood, the town or maybe the world. He wants to ride into town, swing down off his horse, trot through the saloon doors and announce, “The name’s Rusty. Any dog here who thinks he can out-bark me, let him try.”
No one will try. They’ve heard Rusty bark. And bark. And bark. And, well, you get the idea.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting respect, but Rusty’s got a problem with the tough guy image he wants to earn. It’s like casting Justin Bieber to play New York cop John McClane in “Die Hard.” People would say, “Oh, isn’t Justin cute?”
That’s what they see when they look at Rusty. He’s got long, floppy ears covered with curly white and tan fur, big, sad dark eyes in a furry white face and an adorable way of resting his muzzle between his paws when he naps. Women want to pick him up and cuddle him. Wrong image for macho.
Then there’s the issue of his breed. One observer believes Rusty is not a Cocker. Height and weight-wise, he fits the description of a Cocker Spaniel, http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/americancocker.htm, but in appearance, he strongly resembles photos of King Charles Cavalier spaniels. http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/cavalierkingcharlesspaniel.htm
It matters to Rusty because Cockers are a sporting breed; King Charles spaniels, a toy breed. The word “toy” is not what he had in mind. Rusty wants to be a bird dog, even if the only birds he can find around here in winter are crows and seagulls. With nothing better available, he’ll point crows.
As if a cute body and a small breed weren’t difficult enough for a tough guy image, there’s the sweater. It’s a masculine-looking sweater, dark grey-brown with horizontal stripes, sleeveless. It’s sold by Wag A Tude, http://www.wag.com/html/sg/wag-a-tude-dog-clothes.html, which is a pretty macho brand name.
But it is a sweater. What self-respecting dog would be caught outdoors in clothing, for heaven’s sake? Rusty’s human is not the sort of person who wants to dress up dogs in little outfits. But in the last three weeks, we’ve faced morning walks in temperatures as low as -2 degrees. Weather experts say the temperatures haven’t broken any records for the area. If the weather experts had gone with us on our walks, they would have rated the outdoor temperatures “blinkin’ cold.”
Greta doesn’t need a sweater. She has the thick coat of her ancestors, who were bred to plunge into chilly waters off Nova Scotia to retrieve ducks downed by their owners. Who knew she would need a coat like hers in Maryland?
Rusty needs a sweater. His coat is silky, and, thanks to a recent bath, soft. It covers his skin, but there’s no fur left over to provide extra warmth. When the temperature is below freezing, the person who pays the vet bills is not going to argue about the effect of a sweater on Rusty’s self- image.
So, is Rusty thwarted? Not completely. There is a silver lining. After one too many incidents of Rusty peeing in various parts of his overnight quarters in the basement, his human decided a crate would be a wise investment. As his veterinarian explained, once Rusty is crate-trained, he will need to be checked for physical problems if he wets in the crate.
I set up the crate in the room outside my office, furnished it with egg crate foam covered by an old mattress pad, and waited. Rusty sniffed it. He walked in, turned around, scrunched up the mattress pad in a way that felt comfortable, curled up and took a nap.
He said to himself, “Been wanting a man cave. This will work.”
We haven’t closed the door yet. Instructions from crate trainers say to make crate occupancy a pleasant experience. I’m thinking another round of treats inside the crate, then closing it for a few minutes and gradually lengthening the time he spends inside. But so far, it seems like a win-win.
And having one’s own man cave is a major boost to the macho image.