A Boy and His Dog

“Dada, can I say it? I wanna say it! Please Dada!” pled my five year old.

To my left the dog sat rigid as a stump, staring at the distant spot where the lake swallowed her bumper. She was taut as a bowstring, but only the slightest tremble betrayed her growing impatience.

On my right the little boy shifted from rock to rock, flailing his arms, swinging his head, and focusing on absolutely nothing.

“Sure bud,” I said, choosing my words carefully.

The lab allowed herself one, darting, sidewise glance as the kid approached, crouched beside her, and paused a beat before whispering….

“Okay!”

The dog was swimming before he breathed the second syllable.

What is it about a boy and his dog? Timmy and Lassie, Travis and Old Yeller, Tintin and Snowy, Belle and Sebastien, Charlie Brown and Snoopy: Such pervasive, cross-cultural mythology doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. There has to be some there, there.

In my limited experience as an observer, the connection is as unmistakable as it is mysterious. Mine constantly seek each other out, either to cuddle on the floor, scratch a scritchy spot, or initiate mischief. Maybe it’s the bond of shared interests – mud, mayhem, messiness, small woodland creatures, frustrated adults and the like. Perhaps they’re tied together by a commonality of outlook. We could call it innocence or mania, both seem to fit.

“Here Sibley, fetch it up! Good dog. Goooood doggy!” called the boy in a voice he reserves for pets and babies.

All I know is that, at this stage, there’s no use trying to separate them. Sure, I’ve got my hands full trying to get either of them up to speed on their own. And, combining efforts adds a level of complexity that, as a gundog training rookie, I probably don’t need. But the extra challenge now is sure to pay off down the road, right?

“Dada, it ‘s my turn to throw it this time, cause you threw it the last two times and I want to throw it way far down the hill. K?”

“Alright. You know what to do.”

“Sibley sit!” he said, deepening his tone with feigned authority. “Now waaaait.”

The dog looked to me for confirmation, then assumed the position.

I realize that we may confuse the dog, or teach her bad habits through the five-year-old’s imprecision and inconsistency. But as the bumper sails down the hill and into the willows, it’s hard to imagine that such problems aren’t outweighed by the benefits of figuring it out together.

“Okay!” said the boy, and the dog was off again.

“Look Dada, she’s getting it!” he said through a proud grin.

“She sure is,” I answered, thinking that, just maybe, we all are.

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