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Clippings: Dogs offer entertainment, training

Between squirrels desperate to pack away enough food for the winter and dry leaves blowing across the sidewalk, fall is the most difficult time to walk our dogs.
Both Crown, a Lab/German pointer mix we’ve had four years or so, and Reina, a Lab/pit bull mix who’s been happily chewing our belongings for two years, have what my wife calls “strong prey drives.”
I just pray my arms stay attached when Crown decides to chase another brown leaf across the Memorial Sports Center parking lot (does she think they’re alive?), or Reina starts whining and rearing on her hind legs when she spots another stuffed-cheek squirrel.
Actually, Crown is the one who reacts like the dogs from the movie “Up” when we say “Squirrel.” We’ve experimented. She really knows what the word means. You can say “pizza” or “dishwasher” in the same excited tone of voice. Nothing. “Squirrel” gets you DEFCON 5.
But Reina is the one who bolts 50 times a day out into our fenced backyard when she sees (or hears, or thinks she sees or hears, or imagines she sees or hears) squirrels out there in the trees that ring the lawn or in the one red maple that looms over our deck.
Crown gets excited the first 20 times and will charge after Reina. The two of them look like cartoons on our wood floors, feet churning while trying to get traction before finally bouncing off the stair rail and then bursting through both sets of dog doors in futile pursuit of the evil invaders.
To be fair, once I did walk in to find a dead squirrel on the doormat. Whether they killed it or just picked it up after it died from laughing at them, we’ll never know.
But after a while, Crown will start running and then stop, like she’s humoring Reina. Eventually Crown just stays on the couch and looks at us. Yes, Crown says, it’s Reina, the dog who cried squirrel.
Truthfully, the two have settled down a bit, probably because they’re both maybe about six years old and because they are farther away from whatever troubled past they had before we rescued them from Kentucky. Crown lacked for food, for sure, and Reina’s scars suggest she might have been used as a bait dog.
It’s been a couple months since Reina has chewed up a pen, a shoe or a packet of oil for our paper shredder, and Crown hasn’t jumped the back fence in a few weeks.
Fortunately, when Crown does make a break for it, her less agile sister, who can’t make it over the three-and-a-half-foot fence, comes in and complains because she can’t escape, too. Then we know to go to the front door and let Crown, who never goes far, back in. And we give Reina a treat for tattling.
Still, we expected food anxieties, and we got them. Although we’re still not quite sure what they saw a couple weeks ago in the lemon cough drops and stash of Blow-Pops Kristine had bought for her students, items snitched from her briefcase. We were half expecting to see bubbles appear at the wrong end.
A few months back we learned what should have been our final lesson, moving our snack food from below counter level after they figured out how to open the cabinet doors.
But we still make mistakes, and especially Reina considers empty food wrappers, never mind actual food, left on the kitchen counter to be fair game. She’s shameless, and last week tried to snitch foil from the counter while we were watching from the dining room table 15 feet away. We’re still receiving an education.
Of course, mealtimes are major events. Crown greets us by banging her front paws on the ground and turning around in three or four circles, while Reina, true to her pit bull heritage, sneaks in behind her and nips at her heels. Then Crown runs over to the meal site and sits and waits and drools like a faucet, while Reina stands by and inspects our work while we fill the food bowls with kibble.
There are never any leftovers. I guess we’re doing OK.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]

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