Our First Labrador Retriever

Nutmeg in the dishwashwer

Did (or does) your puppy climb into your dishwasher to lick the dirty dishes? Nutmeg got away with this until she was obviously heavy enough to strain the hinges on the dishwasher door. While this photo features Nutmeg as a puppy, the accompanying article is about one of her predecessors.

Stacy, Spooner, and I had good lives in our two-family house in Boston. We lived on the second floor and reserved access to the basement where we had a washer, dryer, deep freeze, and a growing collection of woodworking tools. Our small yard came with a fence, so Spooner could be out by herself, but she usually insisted on coming inside as soon as she noticed we’d gone inside.

Happy as she was, I felt guilty leaving Spooner alone for long work days. She fed the guilt by chewing stuff we wish she hadn’t. For example, she once reached through a baby gate to snag a nearly unused cold-weather Qualofill sleeping bag. Stacy and I were at work, so I don’t know how long it took Spooner to spread the Qualofill all over the living room. This kind of behavior, we understood, is a measure of a dog’s boredom; if Spooner wasn’t bored, she wouldn’t chew our stuff.

Chocolate Surprise

A friend at work told me of her friend’s Chocolate Lab. The Lab spent the entire workday in a basement room, so naturally, when the family got home and brought the dog upstairs, it went dog-happy crazy. This had become dangerous as the family included a toddler; the dog’s antics were simply too rough for the child… so the poor puppy ended up back in the basement each evening where it languished until an adult could give it a few minutes of attention.

My friend mentioned the dog often and suggested that I should offer to adopt it; she insisted that the owners would happily give it up if I wanted it.

Wet and muddy Olive

Early in our relationship, Olive demonstrated Labrador Retriever love for wet and muddy. She was cute, but it was more than a year before she felt to me as my dog.

Perfect, I thought! A companion for Spooner! Still, the idea of having two dogs at once was strange and a bit scary. I mentioned it half-heartedly to Stacy, and over the course of many weeks the topic arose, faded out, and arose again. I had no conviction to adopt this neglected dog, and was kind of teasing the limits of Stacy’s tolerance. Had she expressed concern and desire to rescue the Chocolate Lab, I’d have committed, but Stacy didn’t seem enthusiastic either.

Stacy took me to dinner in Chinatown to celebrate my 30th birthday. There I discovered she had brilliantly engineered a surprise party and Chinese banquet with about 30 guests—including family and friends who had traveled hundreds of miles for the event. The super-surprise gift beyond the party was an OK to bring home that neglected Chocolate Lab. Now, whether or not I wanted the dog, she was going to be ours.

Friend for a Friend

Our new Chocolate Lab, Olive, was just over a year old—a few years younger than Spooner. I wasn’t smitten. In fact, I didn’t particularly like Olive. She seemed kind of stupid; to borrow from a newspaper article I read about that time, she was as smart as a two-by-four.

An early warning flag came a day or two after we took Olive home: We returned from work with some trepidation. How had the two dogs fared on this second day together? As we climbed the stairs the question changed to “Where had the two dogs fared?” Spooner greeted us alone and there was no sign of Olive!

Spooner and Olive played well together

No way these two played like this when we were away at work, but for an hour or so after we got home, Spooner and Olive became crazed maniacs. We rarely played human/dog games with them because they kept each other entertained.

We checked and double-checked the accessible spaces, we opened the bedroom doors, we looked under furniture; we didn’t find Olive. We speculated about someone breaking in to steal our purebred dog, or about some amazing talent the dog must have, and finally I went back down the stairs where the entryway coat closet’s door was closed tight.

I pushed the door inward, and there was our new dog sitting quietly in the dark. How long had it been since she’d trapped herself? Clearly, she had waited patiently. Perhaps she thought this was her place having lived so long with a small basement room as her world.

Duo Dog Dynamics

Fortunately, to challenge my lack of enthusiasm for her, Olive was a dog. She craved attention which meant she worked pretty hard to win me over.

She and Spooner got along charmingly, but we quickly learned an incredible truth that no one tells you when you muse about getting a second dog to keep your first dog company: For the most part, dogs don’t play together unless you’re watching them. This is important, so I’m repeating it: Except in rare cases, your two dogs WILL NOT play together unless they think you’re watching them.

Spooner and Olive nap on the sofa

I’ve no doubt our doggies spent the day doing this stuff while my wife and I were at work. Fortunately, they did some of it as well while we were home or they would have driven us nuts. I love the complete abandon Spooner and Olive shared both when they played and when they rested.

What this meant was that Spooner and Olive slept from when we left to work in the morning until we walked in the door in the evening. They might have snuggled, keeping each other company, but they didn’t romp … except that one time. That time they chose not to sleep in the black, furry bean-bag chair I’d bought in college, but rather to gut it, spreading thousands of tiny Styrofoam beads everywhere. (I think Spooner gutted the chair figuring we’d blame the new dog, but neither ever confessed.)

Did I mention that our two dogs never played together unless they thought we were watching? As soon as we sat down in the living room, Spooner and Olive went nuts. They’d snarl and bite and snarl and pounce and snarl and run and snarl. We’d lift our legs clear as the dogs tumbled through, and the dogs were happy NOT to have us throw toys or play tug-of-war (are there other dog/human games? Does it matter?)

When our darling dingoes tired, they’d lounge on the sofa, usually pressed together or draped over each other. At night, they’d sleep on the foot of the bed which wasn’t a great arrangement, but it satisfied my lifelong desire to rebel against my parents’ rule: No dogs on the beds. Stacy, very clearly, did not approve but she indulged me (and the dogs). She can be a patient person.

It was more than a year before I felt toward Olive that she was our dog and it took even longer for her to win me to the wiles of Labradors. Given the topic of this blog, you’ve probably surmised that Olive did sell me on Labradors. Her sales methods deserve a post of their own.



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