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Now that Opie's bite matches his bark, he's baffled

June 04, 2012

As documented previously, the bouvier des Flandres named Opie is not the most aggressive animal, which is normally one of the breed’s selling points.

For example, where a German shepherd might immediately enter a melee fangs at the ready — killing everything in sight on the theory that the courts will have less to decide that way — a bouvier will literally sit down and think the situation through before choosing sides.

Opie sort of takes this bouvier character to the extreme. He is a BDFD, or Big Dog From a Distance, meaning that the closer you get to him, the less certain of his bravado he becomes. His voice is as deep as a northern woods, and his gaping maw populated with white spikes is the envy of alligators everywhere.

But he is the classic gentle giant who nurtures kittens (although he might wish I hadn’t told you that) and seeing to the well-being of everyone in the family.

He even chases cars at a distance — parallel to the road, but about 100 feet away from the moving vehicle. What others might take for cowardice, I take for common sense; Opie knows his limits and is not about to tangle with a steel vessel that outweighs him by 2 tons. In fact, he gets in these virtual tussles with pretty much anything that moves, conquering them in his mind and at a safe distance.

This swagger and chest thumping applies to the animals of the forest as well. He will thunder his dominance over a groundhog hole that, by all appearances, has been abandoned for two decades. He will chase squirrels, but slows noticeably if he begins to gain on them. Once they have scooted up a tree, he resumes acceleration and then, boy, just lucky for that rodent that there happened to be a tree there, or it would have been one squirrel stew coming up.

So you can understand the disconnect I felt when I noticed Opie trotting along beside me down the lane with one of his toys in his mouth. He is not permitted to take his toys outside, and as I prepared for the issuance of a mild reprimand, I couldn’t help but notice that the hind legs of his toy were moving. The rest of the toy was mostly buried in his mouth, the size of which has been previously documented.

It took about two or three beats before I grasped the reality of the situation — this was no toy groundhog, this was the real thing. It was a clean kill by an animal that, for the first five years of his life, had never harmed so much as a hair of another living creature.

I looked at him, he looked at me, both of us speechless. In fact, he seemed about as surprised as I was, if not more so.

He wasn’t sure whether he was in trouble, and neither was I. We both waited for my reaction. Discipline? Praise? In a sense, it was like a teenage boy with porn. You would kind of prefer it not happen, but you might be more disappointed if it didn’t.

The only thing I was sure of was that the dog was not going to bring his new treasure into the house. About the same time, Opie was deciding that he needed to bring his new treasure into the house. After that, we spent about 20 minutes wrestling over control of the dead creature, sort of like Linus and Snoopy snatching and resnatching a blanket.

He hasn’t killed anything since, but now he knows it’s an option. This is a concern for me and for stupid groundhogs everywhere.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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