Image: Kathryn Yingst
I am attempting to defy an idiom.
My current project is introducing my 13 year old schnauzer-terrier to a backpack. The kind that carries HIM, not vice versa.
I imagine the dog people are reaching for popcorn. Even the casual dog enthusiast understands that a terrier comes straight from the womb convinced of their place in the world as The.Boss.Of.Everything. Suggesting a new way of doing things to a terrier—especially an elderly sort—well, at best it may be naive. Add schnauzer to the genome, and it becomes a bit like interactions with your uncle Eugene: lots of hairy eyebrows raised in bored contempt.
The thing is, with my dog having reached a ripe old age, he isn’t able to prance through our regular adventures like he used to. Instead, there is arthritic hobbling. And for a little guy who desperately wants to be living his best life, staying home instead of going on the usual walks is a real downer. Hence the introduction of the dog backpack.
I’m putting the idea out there slowly. It’s hard for my friend not to see new modus operandi as threatening. He likes doing things the way we’ve always done them. Trust issues. We have clues that before he came to us, he had to pull through some pretty scary situations. He made it, though. Mostly.
Some fears linger. He sits like a sentinel against my calf to guard my back when I do dishes and the teenagers are making too much noise upstairs. He has completely taken out a Mighty Mite vacuum on my behalf.
My dog means well. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult for him to discern danger from A.New.Idea. I’m meeting him where he is.
So far, I’ve brought the backpack out and we sat with it while eating treats. Some of the treats were well inside the bag, and apparently worth retrieving.
The next day he ate his treats while sitting on the backpack.
We had started a new routine, and I guess he decided it wasn’t half bad because by day three my dog was nudging me to start backpack time. He even sat, zippered, inside of it.
I know what people say about an old dog learning new tricks, but I am hopeful. It might be awhile before we get to the trail, but we’re working on it. Together.
– Kathryn Yingst
April 21, 2021