Ava is the cutest dog. She’s got absolutely gorgeous red cattle-dog coloring, but is more the shape of the border collies that make up the other half of her ancestry. She has big dark eyes in a complex double mask and ears like a bat. And above all, she has this soulful expression that says, “I live only to love you.”
It’s hard to get a good picture of her, though, because until recently she thought the camera was some sort of exotic punishment device, and even now she’s not certain. She tolerates it for my sake, but pictures of her always end up looking like Oliver Twist, she’s so wretched.
I once drew this pastel of her from a photo she blurred by leaping up from a lying position and running off to escape the camera. It’s called “Ava says, ‘Please Don’t Take My Picture, Ma!'”:
Border collies routinely test as the most intelligent dogs in the world and cattle dogs place in the top 10. Good thing Ava was absent when they were conducting the IQ tests; she’d have lowered the average considerably for both her breeds.
It’s not really that she’s stupid, though. She’s just so over-eager to please that she misses the point of the actual things I’m trying to teach her.
People consider herd dogs so smart for the very human reason that these dogs were bred to spend their lives in complex interactions with human beings. They’re people-focused to a degree that, in border collies (which Ava takes after), can be downright creepy. In the best of them, their focus can be used to execute stunning and tireless work routines.
Ava is not the best of them. No, she isn’t stupid. She knows every nuance of every word, gesture, and expression that relates to “How do I please Mommy?” (I don’t call myself Mommy, but she would call me that if she could talk.) She knows “sit” and “lie down” and “come” and “get up” and “get down” and “out” and “in” and “scrooch” and “this way” and “move your butt, Ava” and even the dreaded “Go away, Ava” — which sends her into the kitchen to sulk as if I’d just put her on death row.
Words aren’t even needed. The slightest glance or twitch on my part sends her into a frenzy of eagerness to please. Or desperation for attention. Or terror of abandonment.
If I’m sitting on the couch with Robbie next to me and Ava on the rug across the room and I so much as change position or reach for something on the end table, Ava leaps to her feet and rushes to me: “Walks?” “Food?” “Pets?” “Tennis ball?” “Can I help?” Or “OMG, are you about to go get in the car and abandon me forever?????” I can’t cross a room without her in my shadow, a look of deep concern on her face for whatever I might be about to do. When I wake up in the morning I try not to move or breathe too loudly because I’m really not quite ready for her desperate devotions, which will be bestowed upon me the second she knows I’m awake. Meanwhile, stolid, secure old Robbie doesn’t move a muscle.
Yet Ava lives in dread of the fact that I might give even a moment’s attention to Robbie instead of her. I call her the Kim Kardashian of the dog world. My neighbor J says that if Ava were human, her conversation would largely consist of, “But enough about you. Let’s talk about me now.”
In all this overdone attentiveness and attention-seeking, I’ve had a hard time teaching her to do anything useful. She sees only the relationship, not the task or the object I want her to pay attention to.
Unfortunately, she has another very negative, related trait. She’s a b***h. She hates every other dog on the planet on general principle, and she has special loathings for several in the neighborhood. Even though she is always either confined or on leash in the neighborhood, she once managed to pick a neighbor’s Chihuahua up by the neck and shake it like a rat. Thank heaven she dropped it on command and there was no harm done. She’s got another pair of neighborhood dogs for whom she has a special loathing and when they chase after our car (yes, careless neighbors), she goes full Cujo while making piercing shrieks that can be heard a block away. Then in frustration she turns on poor ancient Robbie and tries to beat him up.
She cannot have playdates with even the sweetest dogs because she terrorizes them. When I broke my ankle and boarded Ava at Furrydoc’s, Furrydoc kindly took Ava from the kennel to her own house to spend time with the doc’s Lab, who is as close to a friend as Ava has in the canine world. She tried to eat her “friend” (who she knows from many woods walks) and had to go back to the lonely old kennel.
She has never actually drawn a drop of blood on another dog (except one that attacked her and I believe was trying to kill her). But oh, the theatrics! And the just plain jumpiness. This is one extremely volatile dog. In both love and hatred, she gives 100%.
Ava came to me before she was full grown. At nine months she bit a three-year-old on the face. The kid’s mother allowed the unsupervised toddler to push, pull, thump, and eventually try to drag Ava into a dark closet. Ava snapped. It was a pissy nip rather than a rottweiler death grip. And the mother herself eventually got Ava out of the police hold she’d put her into and saw to it that Ava lived. But Ava’s that kind of dog. I hold my breath — and keep a good grip on the leash — when children approach her.
Ava totally trusts me and will sweetly submit to any sort of handling needed to trim nails, administer eardrops, remove thorns from paws, or inspect booboos. But she would nip, and has nipped, at me several times when I’ve done something that’s annoyed her. Again, no blood. And she repents in about 1/10th of a second — “Oh, Mommy, Mommy, I’m so sorry! Can I bring you a warm cloth? A nice cup of tea, perhaps?”
But an easy dog, she is not.
Basically, she’s just a neurotic, seemingly not very bright, incredibly jumpy and volatile little bundle of 100% devotion and attempted obedience. She’s the most intense dog I’ve ever had. And at 10 years old she’s still a puppy. It’s absolutely exhausting.
I adore her, of course.