Watching Opie learn life's lessons is fun homework

August 07, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND


His breed is a Bouvier des Flandres.

If you ask me, that's a pretty pretentious title for a dog. So to take him down a peg, we named him "Opie."

Grace and agility are never strengths in a puppy, but this one took a lack of coordination to new levels. As a matter of fact, he fell over more often than a two-legged bar stool - so much so that for a time we seriously considered naming him "Thud."

Opie is a big black mop of a dog, and although he will top out at close to 100 pounds, at the moment the Bouvier rather resembles a 35-pound bear cub - or a black sheepdog, but with more hair.


You know he must have eyes in there somewhere, but you can't much see them. When he looks at you, it's kind of like being stared at by a boxwood.

I'd never been around a puppy full time before. And while I'm still no expert, I have learned some things, whether I wanted to or not.

For example, I believe that puppies have not one, but two tiny little brains. One brain controls the front legs, while the other lords over the aft.

And the two brains never communicate.

He'll be lumbering along in pursuit of something known only to him, when Brain 1 will instruct the front legs to slam on the brakes. Brain 1, however, does not bother to convey this message to Brain 2, so consequently, while the front legs are slowing down, the rear legs continue to accelerate.

The result is almost unwatchable.

If you wish to recreate what happens in the comfort of your own neighborhood, take your bike to the nearest steep hill, get up a ton of speed and then slam on the front brakes only.

After about the fifth somersault, Opie's pinwheeling momentum will slow to a stop, just as the hindquarters are reaching an apex above the forequarters. This upside-down pillar of dog will hold that pose for a half second, before the whole furry black mass collapses on itself in a pile of doggie rubble featuring bones bending in ways that they are not intended to bend.

But does he care? No, because he is a puppy, and puppies do not care about anything. Everything is fun. Falling down the stairs is a carnival, running full-speed into a wall is a Mediterranean cruise. You can't punish the animal, because he takes even the harshest word as encouragement and applause. His only regret about getting swatted by cat claws is that it doesn't happen more often.

Beth's cat, a small but intense Siamese named Juliet, finally gave up. Not that she didn't try. Lord knows she tried.

But a feline only has so many claws and so much energy. After raking her barbed paws across Opie's dome for the umpteenth time - only to see her victim bounce up and down with the joy that comes from being noticed - Juliet washed her hands of the whole project and developed the strategy of hanging out in a nearby tree where she could view the carnage from above.

With the cat out of the picture, Opie went to work on Hannah, a French bulldog with the dignity of an English butler and the worries of a Jewish grandmother.

Mixing Opie and Hannah was like mixing Kid Rock with George Will.

But it couldn't be helped. After three weeks, Hannah condescended to play with Opie. Well, maybe it was play, maybe it was attempted murder, it was hard to tell.

It all reached a boiling point one afternoon when the bulldog - 44 pounds of fur and phlegm - raised herself off of her prone sidewalk, leaving a puddle of drool, as she always does. She waddled stoically into the yard to perform that most sacred of dog rituals.

Hannah primly fluffed herself up and after some research, found just the right spot in the lawn next to the flower bed. She squatted and had just slowly closed her eyes to commence her peaceful, urinary liturgy when, out of nowhere, she was broadsided by a flying Bouvier.

The resulting tornadic tumbleweed of grass, dust, gaillardia, dog and yellow spray would have made the Super Bowl halftime show look like poetry reading.

There was a coolness between Hannah and Opie after that stunt, so recently Opie has been eying the goats as potential playmates.

These goats don't do much to earn their keep, other than to look picturesque. They are shaggy, long-horned, purely ornamental, just-add-Heidi goats.

But they do love to butt, with a vengeance. And they love nothing more than a good prank.

As Opie gets braver and wanders ever closer to their pasture, I can't help but think that this ought to be good.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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