I’ve had rough-coated border collies for 16 years. I have hiked them in all kinds of terrain this entire time; much of these hikes in the dry Rocky Mountain climate I grew up in. Still, the burr (spiky seed pod) situation I experienced with my young Felix just a few days ago is unparalleled in my life. Anyone with dogs that have coat much thicker than a vizsla’s knows that these spiny devils can wreak havoc on any nice walk in nature. The times I have combed them out of Idgie’s or Kelso’s coats are many; and the times I’ve cut them out are plentiful enough.
Then, the other day, Felix topped them all.
You see, my boy Felix has a zeal for life that is unlike that of any dog–or other creature–that I have ever met. In my seminars I often talk about dogs with “BIG FEELINGS” and Felix is the reason I use that phrase. To see Felix frolicking down an open trail, across a grassy meadow, or in a mountain stream is to witness joy embodied. So when I noticed that his tail and neck ruff were collecting burrs on our pit-stop hike the other day (halfway to our destination) I figured, whatever. I will pick them out at the car, let him run. I don’t regret that choice, as the damage was done, but I was wrong about the picking them out part. And that’s where this gets interesting.
At the car I attempted to pick the burrs out of Felix’s body. Turns out they were embedded in his tail, making it one giant ball of felted fur and burrs. They were down to the skin behind his ears, woven into his delicious ear hair that I adore. The little boogers were even twisted up into his armpits in clusters. My poor guy must have been uncomfortable; but they hadn’t slowed him down. Nothing stops him from experiencing full-on bliss on a hike. Nothing.
My fingers were not doing the trick and I do not travel with all of my grooming tools. So I chose to put Felix in the car and deal with the nasty buggers when I arrived at my destination. So, 9pm, glass of wine nearby (thanks mom), I assessed the situation. Quickly I saw that there would be no brushing these things out, and that while I could use oil, another day of waiting to buy such oil would only allow them to dig deeper into my sweet boy’s skin. Felix was also as exhausted as I was and fully over being handled and groomed.
So I picked up a metal comb and a pair of scissors, and did what needed to be done. It was so tedious and uncomfortable for Felix that I did it in several short sessions, and when I was done he was free of the burrs and also much of his beautiful coat. Each cut hurt me deeply; I am unabashedly in love with the way my dogs look. As hard as it was for Felix to tolerate me cutting these out (it was no small task and involved wiggling them away from his skin with the comb) it would have been much, much harder for him to withstand the actual removal of the burrs without scissors. I’d have been happier in the end because my gorgeous dog would still be fluffy and fully coated; but our relationship would have suffered. So this is a case of taking the high road; of choosing the long term over the short term. It was a case of choosing my connection to my sweet dog over my own vanity. And it hurt (me).
So my question is, when was the last time you chose your relationship with your dog over your own ego, or your own goals? Do you do the ear pinch, knowing it will get you that consistent retrieve for the ring; or do you trust the power of positive reinforcement? Do you noose up the dog and cut those toenails or do you let them grow a little while you work on a cooperative toenail routine?
Do you throw on a prong collar, or spend the painstaking months it might take to teach reliable loose leash walking?
Often we choose ourselves or our goals over the relationship that exists between us and our dogs. I am not exempt from this; but I am choosing to think of my choice as a wise one while I cringe at the butchered coat of my pretty young dog. He is thrilled; he can continue hiking to his heart’s desire and he has no aversion to combs, scissors, or brushes. I am horrified at his chopped-up tail and man-mane. But I will live, and he will trust me all the more.