Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hose running

No, I'm not talking of running hoses, such as when you forget to turn a tap off in the garden. Hose running is a totally different affair. It's an outdoor occupation, a game… or indeed a sport. It's a straightforward activity, which consists essentially of grabbing a length of hose and running as fast as possible, and often in circles, while taking care not to let go of the piece of hose, or have it knocked out of your grip by an encounter with an obstacle. My dog Fitzroy (seen here from an upstairs window, in the middle of his untidy little universe of sticks and twigs) has become a top-class performer in this sport.

Sophia, on the contrary, has never been tempted to get involved in this sport. She looks upon hose running with disdain, considering that a dog has to be rather empty-headed to get a kick out of such a silly activity.

In fact, Sophia has never even bothered to take the first step for a future hose runner: acquiring the basic equipment, which consists of finding a hose and biting off an appropriate length for hose running. Fitzroy performed this task ages ago, not long after his arrival at Gamone, which means that he has now acquired some three or four months of solid experience in this sport.

Fitzroy is becoming competent in another occupation: pool construction. Maybe I should speak rather of making puddles.

The trick, here, is to do your digging at a spot where you've detected the presence of water. Fitzroy, who has always been particularly observant, noticed that there's a link in the hoses from the spring that allows a tiny quantity of water to escape. So, he calculated the ideal location of the excavation operations, which were carried out in the early hours of the morning. And the puddle was full a few hours later.

I now believe that Fitzroy's deep attachment to humans is permanently wired-in to the synapses between the neurons in his brain. Besides, I'm convinced that this wiring-in got under way right from the first instants of his encounter with Christine, who nursed him tenderly in her lap during a lengthy car trip from his birthplace in Risoul up through the Alps to Gamone. These days, of an evening, Fitzroy likes nothing better than to crawl up onto my knees when I'm seated in front of the fireplace, watching TV. The presence of the little woolly dog on my knees is warm and cuddly, and it's marvelous to see him fall asleep almost instantly, apparently in a state of serenity. But, with the weather about to warm up, it would be unwise of me to encourage this habit, because of the possible presence in Fitzroy's fur of ticks and fleas, both of which can cause terrible afflictions in humans. So, sadly, I'll have to draw a line that limits our cuddly proximity. There's another risk in these fireside sessions with Fitzroy half-asleep on my knees. Periodically, he decides to adjust his position, and this can result in his lashing out drowsily with his paws to get a grip on the surroundings, which can be my face and neck. So, I really must cease behaving like one of Fitzroy's favorite dogs, and leave that role solely to Sophia.

BREAKING NEWS: Even an experienced hose runner can encounter problems when new sporting equipment is being tested on inappropriate grounds.

In fact, when I first dashed for my camera, the hose was wound several times around the tree. In the time it took me to get my camera ready, Fitzroy had already started to solve the problem. And half a minute later, the hose was completely free. But Fitzroy has apparently sensed that something's wrong with this king-sized equipment because, for the moment, he has abandoned the hose on the lawn.

More precisely, although he's completely soaked by the light rain that has been falling all day (resulting in insufficient light for me to take acceptable photos), Fitzroy seems to be deciding what to do next.


  1. That Fitzroy, he's such a character and, as you say, a big woolly ball of fur and fun!

    As ever, I really enjoy your stories of your four-legged companions.

  2. In hose running, there are certainly subtle goals of which I'm not aware, simply because I don't have the sensitivity of a dog. Fitzroy, of course, would recognize such goals, in a purely automatic and cerebral manner, particularly when he attains them. And success would reward him and push him on to the pursuit of greater goals. In hose running, sheer running speed seems to be a fundamental factor, combined with dexterity in turning corners at the right angle, without losing speed, and returning constantly to the starting point in the circuit. But I'm convinced that Fitzroy's basic preoccupation (of which he's not, of course, consciously and explicitly aware) is related to the challenge of operating in multiprocessing mode. He needs to carry out at least two major tasks simultaneously. Not only does he have to respect his lap performance on the circuit (and improve it, if possible), but he has to avoid perpetually the risk of dropping the hose.

    There's another everyday situation in which Fitzroy has not yet mastered multiprocessing. When the two dogs are in the kitchen, and I give each of them a crusty piece of bread, Sophia gulps it down immediately, whereas Fitzroy grabs his piece and heads for the closed door, expecting me to let him out, so that the pleasant act of consuming the bread can be performed in his familiar outdoors environment, with a reduced risk that the piece of bread might be stolen by me or Sophia. But, in the excitement of prancing around and then dashing through the opened door, Fitzroy inevitably lets the piece of bread of bread drop onto the kitchen floor. And, once outside, he starts searching around on the ground in bewilderment, wondering how the bread could have suddenly vanished. When I pick up the fallen bread from the kitchen floor and throw it out to him, Fitzroy probably imagines that I had stolen it momentarily, or that some kind of miracle has taken place. In similar circumstances (with a big bone, for example), Sophia knows that she has to hold on firmly to the object clenched in her jaws up until she's safely out on the lawn. And then she's capable of looking back at me, with the bone still in her mouth, just to make sure that I might not be about to throw out further fragments. (The latter event would provoke anguishing confusion for Sophia, since she would then need to decide how to handle safely the multiplicity of pieces... but that's another story.) Only when she's sure that the situation is calm does Sophie settle down on the lawn to handle her bone.

    Let me return to Fitzroy's obsession with human contacts, particularly of a cuddly and buccal nature. From an overall viewpoint, his style of dealing with me (I'm deliberately inverting the master/dog relationship) is remarkably possessive and intrusive, as if everything I do is necessarily highly fascinating for him, and to be examined constantly (controlled, as it were) at close range. When I finally succeed in letting him know that I don't want him to jump up onto me (message transmitted by much shouting and pushing), he reacts by planting himself on his backside directly in front of me, at my feet, and staring up at me intently as if he were about to receive divine revelations from me. When I move forwards, Fitzroy solves the problem of not jumping up onto me by sliding around on his backside in such a way that he's always just in front of me. Fortunately, everything changes as soon as Sophia arrives on the scene, or when we all set out on a walk… which happens regularly. From that point on, I cease to exist as a companion. On the other hand, he gets back instantly to obeying my spoken orders and gestures… as, for example, when I reprimand him for racing after Moshé and snapping (dangerously) at the donkey's rear legs.

    In any case, dealing with the dogs, and trying to understand what makes them tick, is a constant and delightful challenge for me... but I'm not at all certain that I'm vaguely competent at this level.

  3. In reference to your Breaking News, Fitzroy, like any well behaved sheep dog is looking to his master and asking you "What next, boss?"

    Thanks, too, for the extra explanations and descriptions of your daily life with Fitzroy and Sophia :-)