My phone rings and I hesitate for a moment. I don’t recognize the number. Nevertheless, I answer the call and find on the other end of the line a guy who’s interested in the Bulldogge breed. The conversation takes right off as he tells me about himself and the dogs he’s owned and loved. This is my kind of conversation. He’s chattering away as I listen. He navigates through the list of breed clubs and competitions he’s been associated with. He elaborates on the shutzhund training that he was actively involved in with a particularly noteworthy German Shepherd. I continue listening as he shares about the many obedience titles his Doberman was led to under his tutelage. He lists off strings of letters before and after their names that indicates the titles that these dogs have earned. As he speaks at great length about the importance of asserting dominance over powerful breeds from an early age, my mind drifts back to when Luke sprawled out in the show ring and refused to budge. That was the same day that he urinated on me while standing ringside.
I had been showing Luke since he was puppy. He was no stranger to the routine. And he could prance around that ring and stop in a natural stack that would command the attention of any judge. He could make me look like a professional handler which was a miracle in itself. But on occasion he would decide that traveling around in circles was absurd, absolutely stupid. And when he had enough there wasn’t a hotdog or cheese bite that could bribe him into another lap. Selective obedience. That’s what you get with bulldogges. You might order other breeds around, asserting your dominance, but that won’t get you very far with bulldogges. As with any healthy relationship, Luke and I had to discuss things and navigate situations as they arose. I don’t think he ever understood why I enjoyed trotting around in circles for ribbons and trophies. He’d humor me most of the time, though. That’s what love does. It parades around in circles for reasons unknown and against better judgement. Anything that Luke agreed to was a reflection of his love for me. It was never an act of raw obedience.
It was a particularly cold day for an outdoor show. I was excited about the prospect of showing Luke in an all breed setting. He had earned his Grand Champion title with the National Bulldogge Association and I was hopeful that he might begin working toward a title with an all breed club. The day started off with a bang. As I stood with Luke at the registration table entering him into the shows, a Cane Corso strolled by and came to a halt next to his handler about fifteen feet away. I felt Luke’s leash fill with tension, so I redirected my attention onto him. That Corso was sitting politely at his handler’s side while staring menacingly at Luke. That’s all it took. Luke wasn’t about to put up with another dog mean mugging him. He snapped to attention, chest out, chin up. He snorted like a bull and stomped the ground. I quickly snapped the lead to draw his attention away from the rude onlooker. Luke stepped toward me as he shot one last piercing glare over his shoulder like a laser beam toward his adversary. As they held eye contact for a few more seconds, Luke lifted his leg and hosed down my freshly pressed dress slacks. That wrapped up the staring contest. The stone still Corso shifted, a perplexed countenance overtook him. Luke strutted alongside me toward our seats, intensely satisfied with himself. Check mate.
I stood, leg soaking wet, watching all of the handlers work their dogs ringside in preparation of the anticipated competition. Dogs stacked up beautifully, eyes fixed on the bait. I looked over at Luke who had bundle himself up in my mom’s lap and snuggled under her blanket to keep warm. I attempted to lure him out with a tidbit of hot dog. He shot me a flat no with his eyes. If I hadn’t already paid the entry fees I think I would have opted out of standing in the cold and went back home. Obedience and conformation competitions are enjoyable only when your canine counterpart takes pleasure in them as well. Luke was intelligent, personable and opinionated. He had strong feelings about things and he expressed them freely. He exhibited moments of excellence and high performance followed by fits of defiance. I learned early on in our relationship that forcing an issue would be miserable for both of us. Luke would do anything that I insisted on, but not without theatrics. An explosion of dramatics highlighting his utter contempt and animosity would precede obedience. And much sulking and silent treatment would follow. I learned to pick my battles. Life with bulldogges is like that. Asserting authority and pressing trivial matters will only serve to frustrate. Isn’t that true for any healthy relationship, though? Who in their right mind would enjoy being manipulated with treats while having their opinions overridden at every turn? Respect. Bulldogges require respect.
The day’s events went much as I had anticipated. There were five shows that day and Luke and I stumbled along in the first three. He would hesitate to enter the ring, I would insist. He would let out an audible sigh and begrudgingly travel around the ring without fanfare. He would sit when I tried to stack him, pull when I tried to stop. Eyes fixed on the ring exit, he went roughly through the motions while longing to bundle back into his blanket ringside. We were both miserable. Finally, the third show proved to be the climax of the day’s activities. As we passed by the exit in our final lap around the ring, Luke put on the brakes and pulled like a train in attempt to exit. With handler/dog teams bringing up the rear I cringed at the thought of screeching to a halt mid lap. I tugged on the lead with force and insisted that Luke comply. He shot me an insubordinate glare, bowed his head down , dug in with his feet and back pedaled to toward the exit. The other participants trotted past us as Luke plopped belly down with much force at the edge of the ring. We were locked in a battle of the wills. The judge was agitated, I was embarrassed and Luke was exptremely displeased with me. I pleaded with Luke to cooperate and he finally, after what felt like an eternity, stood back up and took his place with me in the line up. There was no chance in placing after such a flagrant display, but we stood there until the last ribbon was awarded. We congratulated the winners, left the ring and packed up our things. It was well past time to go home.
As I drove home feeling dejected with my pant leg stained with Luke’s urine, I glanced over at him curled up on the seat snoring like a fat baby. He had finally gotten his way. He was content. In spite of the day’s frustrations, I couldn’t be upset with him. After all, he hadn’t signed up for any shows or indicated an interest in such for that matter. I had taken it upon myself to haul him out into the frigid cold to prance around in circles for points, titles and ribbons that meant less than nothing to him. As I reflect on all of Luke’s accomplishments in the show ring over the years, and he had many of them, I remember most affectionately the moments that more accurately conveyed his personality. The times when he expressed himself with flare. Luke showed well for me on many occasions, but he wasn’t a show dog at heart. He was charismatic, a social butterfly. He enjoyed meeting people at shows, he enjoyed eating chicken nuggets ring-side for lunch and he enjoyed just spending the day with me. But he didn’t always enjoy turning it on and strutting his stuff in a show ring.
My telephone conversation with the obedience training guru waned. I was amused that in a world filled with breeds who live to please, this guy was zeroed in on adding a bulldogge. I expressed my concerns to him candidly and explained that while bulldogges are intelligent, they aren’t always agreeable. Stubborn. Bulldogges are stubborn. And that flies in the face of activities that require impeccable obedience. He didn’t seem deterred by my words of caution. Maybe a bulldogge is just what he needs. Oftentimes, the most unlikely relationships happen along and serve to transform us in ways unimaginable. This guy just might need to be owned by a bulldogge. Few things are as special as having a dog take charge of your life and train you up to their liking. As I hung up the phone, I smiled as I imagined how unimpressed a bulldogge would be with his extensive training knowledge and experience. Maybe a bulldogge isn’t what he needs, after all.