by Henry Lane Hull
Over the years that I have written this column whenever I have discussed my efforts (or should I say dabbling?) in the field of animal husbandry, I have prefaced my remarks with the disclaimer that I am a totally self-taught amateur in the discipline. I have no professional training in animal psychology, hence my dabbling in the subject is based solely on experiential factors.
With that said, today I wish to expound upon some of the things I have learned from our family venture raising two Pembroke Welsh corgis. The saga began when we took the B.E.s to see the movie, “The Queen,” that starred Helen Mirren. Since childhood I have been enamored with English springer spaniels, my favorite breed, four of whom (I deliberately do not say “which”) I have raised, but in the film the focus was on Queen Elizabeth’s Welsh corgis.
The Elder B.E. was enthralled, and within a few months a wonderful puppy had joined our family menagerie. We named her Lily, and although not an English springer, she is a delightful addition, and she adapted well to the presence of our older dog, who since has died.
Several years later, Lily produced her sole offspring, and we gave her the name of Maggie, short for Magnolia. Welsh corgis are herding dogs, whereas springers are sporting dogs. Previously, I never understood the difference, but I do now, and how. Corgis are very nice animals, but true to their nature they are quite bossy, sort of like cats wanting to have things their way. Lily is less that way, but Maggie is excessive.
With different dogs I have gone through obedience training several times. I have learned with the dogs the meaning of the words, “come,” “sit,” “stay,” and “heel,” and how to give such commands, but with the corgis I have learned, and taught, a far wider vocabulary.
I have found that the key word in the corgi lectionary is “oops.” It supersedes “come” in that when one utters it, especially in the kitchen, the response is immediate. Both dogs are front and center, in the hope that “oops” means one has dropped a delicious morsel on the floor where it is readily attainable. As a word it is far more effective than “come,” and even Lily, now 12, who feigns hearing problems, moves decisively if one as much as merely whispers “oops.”
The herding instinct in Maggie is compelling. If I say “come,” she tears off to tell Lily that she is wanted, probably to go for a walk, and she demands that she come at once, a big help to me when I am trying to take them out. Maggie does not bark at me.
Could I be the alpha male? She does bark at my Good Wife. I think she is trying to direct her to take them for a walk, whereas she knows that I do not put up with such nonsense.
Both dogs like to go for car rides, and are proficient in understanding the words “car” and “truck.” They know the linguistic difference between “water” and “food,” as well as the key significance of “next.” I prefer to walk them one-on-one, and I always take Lily first. Maggie sits looking offended, until I say “next,” which means that as soon as Lily and I return, I shall be taking her for her own walk. “Next” is well understood, and I do my part to reinforce the meaning by taking her out as soon as Lily and I reenter the house.
Lastly, for generic conversation, both dogs respond to “okay,” which they correctly understand to mean that permission is given for whatever scheme or treat they are expecting to happen. I have read in dog training manuals that one should not use the word “okay,” but from experience I can attest that it is the bond that keeps us together, and they look expectantly for me to utter it.
Closing with another reference to the past, having the corgis has reiterated the wisdom of the late Stanley Stewart of White Stone, who wrote a regular column in the Rappahannock Record entitled, “Animals Are Smart,” for indeed they are.