Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Worth a thousand words

It was clear after his initial attack on the couch cushions that Murdoch was a chewer. I think it was a way for him to release his pent up energy and I much preferred him chewing on things rather than people. So we gave him cardboard and sticks and toys to chew on. For a while he relished every new piece of cardboard we handed him. Egg cartons were especially intriguing for a while, how they opened and closed, the thickness and texture of the cardboard, and all the different ways he could hook his teeth into them. They were even better when we put treats inside.

Whenever we had an empty box of pasta or granola bars or crackers, we’d either hand it to his eagerly awaiting mouth and marvel at how wide he could open his jaw as though it had an extra hinge, or toss it over the railing down to the entryway and watch as he pounced on it, then grabbed it with his teeth and shook his head. Eventually the sounds of ripping cardboard would float up to where we sat in the kitchen. He could make boxes last for ages, ripping the pieces into ever smaller chunks.

One day I handed him the empty cereal box. He took it from me with eyes bright yet somehow not really there as though his attention had already shifted to the next glorious half-hour with a new box. Excitement vibrated right out of his body and through the cardboard to my hand.

I heard the calamitous sounds of the box being pushed around the floor and bashed into things, then of it being picked up and dropped, pounced on, sat on, completely investigated. It was some time later, I’m not sure how long, when I became aware that everything was silent. It was odd because the box was a big one and I was sure he couldn’t have finished with it already and if he had, he would have found something else to do that was equally as loud and destructive. I got up from my chair and walked over to the railing to peer down into the entryway. There he sat, still as a statue, tail between his legs, with the cereal box crammed down over his head right to his shoulders. My hand flew up to my mouth to suppress the laugh that tried to burst from my lips. I didn’t want to disturb him before I could get a picture.

With camera in hand I crept down the stairs and then said his name. The entire box swung towards my voice but the rest of Murdoch never moved. I laughed out loud then and snapped a bunch of pictures before rescuing him from the evil box. As soon as I pulled it from his head, he snatched it away and stomped on it and proceeded to rip it to shreds.

It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen and he proceeded to do it twice more, on separate occasions, with completely different cereal boxes.

Murdoch’s need to destroy things has abated a bit over time, giving the socks and mitts and other small items of clothing in our house cause for joyous celebration. It wasn’t always as easy as taking hold of any bits of material hanging from Murdoch’s mouth, calmly but firmly saying “mine”, and feeling the easy release of his jaw and a sheepish look in his eye as if to say “just kidding”. It used to be all out warfare.

The dramatic scenes that once played out almost daily over mitts or toques held hostage in Murdoch’s unrelenting mouth were not for the faint of heart. Battles ensued at the flick of a switch, usually at the most inconvenient moments. It would happen like this:
Gathering up an armful of laundry from the indoor clothes line which is strung up in a corner of our entryway to capture the heat of the woodstove, I wander by an innocent Murdoch lounging on the couch chewing a piece of cardboard clasped between his front paws. As I head towards the stairs up to our kitchen, there’s the gentle shoomp of a sock falling from my arms and hitting the floor. The sound registers with me at the same time Murdoch hears it. I turn and see his eyes are already locked on the poor helpless thing just lying there. I throw what I’m carrying to safety, flinging my arms towards the baby gate at the top of the stairs as my body is already turning back to the sock.

Like a slow motion scene in an adventure movie, the world has shrunk to our entryway as Murdoch leaps from the couch and I take my first frantic step towards the centre of the room where the sock lies completely exposed. “Murdoch, nooo!” I yell as I see the focus in his eyes and he closes the distance. He is half a step away and I am almost on top of him. I throw myself forward to make up the extra distance and reach with my hand but his teeth are already unsheathed and my finger just brushes the edge of the sock as his mouth closes around it. If I’m too slow, it will disappear completely behind his steel trap jaw, so I lunge again and snag a tiny corner of material. My thumb and forefinger turn white as they hold on with all the strength they can muster.

If this wasn’t a constant scenario, if we didn’t have so many items of clothing with the shiny coating of Murdoch slobber plastered on them, if I wasn’t concerned that he might gulp the sock further into his mouth with my hand behind it, this would be pretty funny. Murdoch sits with his mouth buttoned up so tight it looks like he has sucked in his lips and is trying desperately to keep some scandalous secret. His face becomes slightly elongated, which looks ridiculous because of his shaggy beard and eyebrows that already give him a long face. He looks at me with his wide eyes bulging from his head as if he is truly surprised about what is happening, but at the same time they dart from left to right as though planning his next move. He looks like a cartoon parody of himself.

He sits, with a corner of fabric sticking out the side of his mouth with my fingers attached as I sharply admonish him and repeat one word over and over again, more strongly with each utterance “Mine, Mine, MINE!”

Finally, sometimes with the aid of a few squirts of apple bitters to his lips, his hold loosens and I can grab more of the material in my hand and I become like a magician, slowly and dramatically hauling a string of coloured handkerchiefs from inside a previously empty top hat. Eventually the sock is released, a sopping wet and warm slimy limp thing pinched between my fingers. I scowl at Murdoch and he looks back, quite pleased with himself.


  1. Oh Heather, I love this post!
    I can totally relate to your experiences with Murdoch - I have a hell-hound German Shorthaired Pointer named "Trey".
    You wrote about Bear being your soulmate - for me, that was a black lab named Cole (who Morgan might remember from puppy class) Trey is the polar opposite of Cole and tests my sanity daily...but makes me laugh daily too!
    I have been told by 2 different trainers that we aren't given the dogs we want, but are given the dogs we need, to teach us, and make us better people. After 2 years with Trey, I believe he was sent to me to teach me patience, wehich I am finding useful with dealing with him, as well as in life in general. I'll be anxiously awaiting new posts of the antics of Murdoch, but also how "my girl" Bear is doing as well!!

  2. That is what we quickly came to realize Murdoch is to us. He showed up at exactly the wrong time and tested every ounce of our patience and sanity. He was with us for eight months before he even started to resemble a "real dog". In the process of trying to eat us both he has managed to change our lives completely, for the better.
    Thanks for your comment. Glad you're reading and enjoying!