Mr. and Mrs. Dog
Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies
Publication Year: 2013
The New York Times–bestselling author Donald McCaig has established an expansive literary career, founded equally on books about working sheepdogs and the Civil War novels Jacob’s Ladder and Rhett Butler’s People, the official sequel to Gone with the Wind.
In his new book, Mr. and Mrs. Dog, McCaig draws on twenty-five years of experience raising sheepdogs to vividly describe his—and his dogs June and Luke’s—unlikely progress toward and participation in the World Sheepdog Trials in Wales.
McCaig engagingly chronicles the often grueling experience—through rain, snow, ice storms, and brain-numbing heat—of preparing and trialing Mrs. Dog, June, "a foxy lady in a slinky black-and-white peignoir," and Mr. Dog, Luke, "a plain worker—no flash to him." Along the way, he relays sage advice from his decades spent talking with America’s most renowned dog experts, from police-dog trainers to positive-training gurus.
As readers of McCaig’s novels will expect, Mr. and Mrs. Dog delivers far more than straightforward dog-training tips. Revealing an abiding love and respect for his dogs, McCaig unveils the life experiences that set him on the long road to the Welsh trial fields. Starting with memories of his first dog, Rascal, and their Montana roadtrip in a ’48 Dodge, McCaig leads us into his thirties, when he abandons his New York advertising career to move to a run-down Appalachian sheep farm in the least populous county in Virginia. This 1960s agrarian adventure ultimately brings McCaig, Luke, and June to the Olympics of sheepdog trials. In his narration of one man’s love for his dogs, McCaig offers a powerful portrayal of the connection between humans and their animal companions.
Published by: University of Virginia Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote
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I am a visionary. Not the “visionary” CEO grinning from the cover of your seatback magazine, much less a Joseph Smith or Isaiah. I am a run-of-the-mill visionary: plain vanilla. When I was younger, I didn’t discriminate between visions produced by decades of spiritual discipline and visions got by swallowing a pill. I became a pharmacological tourist in...
The Education of a Dog Man
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The dogcatcher was the most hated man in my hometown. In the 1940s and ’50s Butte, Montana, was a one-industry mining town. If you didn’t want to go down the holes, jobs were scarce and town jobs were real plums. But Butte’s dogcatcher was appointed in a closed meeting of the city council and his name wasn’t revealed. Despite...
Overcoming the Home Court Advantage
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To most people, “sheep” is synonymous with “stupid.” Murrow’s
“a nation of sheep” is no compliment. Yet, to my knowledge, no
sheep in North America believed Saddam Hussein had weapons
of mass destruction. None invested with Bernie Madoff.
These tests aside, sheep are extremely good at being sheep. They bed down on high ground and post sentries for predator alerts. Mamas teach...
Mr. and Mrs. Dog
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It was one of those fine, clear fall days when grimy old Manhattan is beautiful. Water taxis buzzed past the Hudson River Park, lovers of every persuasion made private spaces for billing and cooing. Children dashed, joggers puffed, and tai chi practitioners emulated herons. The dogs and I had found some shade. The pot dealer did a double take when he...
What Your Dog Is Trained to Do and Why
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Your dog: what do you want from him? Do you want him to heel, on and off leash, at your left side? When you say “Come!” do you want him to race to you, spin, and sit beside you facing forward? Do you expect him to lie down at a distance? To sit still for five minutes with you out of the room? Do you expect instant obedience to a...
The Trainer’s Trainer
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Most dogs like to be fondled by total strangers about as much as most humans do. But like humans, dogs can be trained to tolerate fondling and some learn to seek it. Every species has its “happy hookers,” and before her first literary event I’d hoped June might be such a one...
A Desperate Gamble
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Like William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, the appeal of sheepdog trialing is simplicity: nothing exists outside your run. Debts, sins, bad health, marital difficulties, all those insults life so willingly provides: disappeared. Donald’s ego dies into the intricate, fluid man/dog/ sheep task. Trialing is serial immortalities; each run, eternity in an hour...
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In the second grade, I was introduced to addition, subtraction, and basic multiplication. The teacher taught with flashcards. She’d hold up a card:...
Mrs. Dog Buys Our Ticket
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The National Finals Sheepdog Trials began at noon on Tuesday, September 18, in a forty-acre field outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One hundred fifty dogs would be winnowed to forty, who’d then compete in the semifinals Saturday. The best seventeen of those would run on Sunday for the championship. If Luke or June reached...
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Traditional dog training is anecdotal. Bill Koehler believed dog behavior was profoundly ethical, and Vicki Hearne elaborated on Koehler’s theory, but most traditional trainers are simple pragmatists, and success with a difficult dog trumps epistemology every time. To date, e-collar trainers are pretheoretical: no thinker has explained how...
Positive Trainer Pat Miller
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A certificate from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers states that Pat Miller is a certified pet dog trainer, and another from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior says she is a certified dog behavioral consultant. Beside the certificates in Miller’s training room is a photograph taken when Miller was a uniformed animal...
The Last Dog Still Standing
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I’d run in five National Finals but reached the semifinals only once
and never gotten through to the finals — the top 17 dogs. At the 1994
Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, I’d been out by only 2 points.
More handlers are winnowed in the qualifying round — 110 of 150 — than during the semifinals: 23 out, 17 in. Though the better handlers and...
Listening to Dr. Dodman
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Are you Max’s?” The vet tech smiled at me.
I shook my head no. I didn’t think I belonged to any dog, but i if I did, I’d probably be Luke’s, presently in the car, or June’s. She was beside me in the reception room of Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals...
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Since rounding up goats in West Texas last winter, Mr. and Mrs. Dog and I had put thirty thousand miles on the station wagon, from the Dakotas to New Hampshire to my calling June in on the wrong sheep at Gettysburg. That particular mistake knocked us out of the top seventeen, and walking off with a minute remaining (retired: score zero)...
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Joe Mazeros was the finest practical ethologist I’ve ever known. He escaped from Hungary during the 1956 revolution and claimed he descended from a long line of successful poachers. How could he know they were successful? “In Hungary, the penalty for poaching was castration.”...
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Now that we actually were on the United States Team, I needed to face the alarming forms that would allow me and the Mister and Missus into Britain. I had to involve my vet and figure travel arrangements...
A Thousand Yards
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It’s easier (and cheaper) to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle than to fly two forty-five pound dogs to Britain. DEFRA-approved air carriers accepted dogs as cargo, US to the UK, at $860 one way. Per dog. Plus kennel costs in the UK and the owner’s ticket and expenses over there. It looked like $4,000–$5,000....
One More River to Cross
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I’d forgotten one teensy-weensy detail. The last thing one does before flying dogs to the UK is get a tick treatment (Advantix preferred) and a tapeworm pill (must contain praziquantel), which your vet must administer twenty-four hours but not forty-eight hours before the dog is accepted at the port of entry. My vet did so at exactly 1608 EDT...
“That’s a Good Boy”
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Unlike dog shows and obedience matches, no autocracy determines who can judge a sheepdog trial. The trial host hires who he wants. Since the judge may be judging his neighbor, the fellow he sold an expensive dog to last week, or even his own spouse, the judge’s reputation in the sheepdog community is the only check on all too human...
“It Can’t Have Been Easy to Arrange”
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The next day David Rees and I drove to David Streeter’s steading. Streeter is a landscaper and, David Rees told me, “a demon for work.” Although Streeter rarely took a day off, today was his birthday and his wife had insisted...
Welsh Roads (A Rant)
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For a thousand years men battled over Welsh soil. Fertilized by men’s blood, every inch of it is precious, and very, very little is devoted to roads. Driving home one evening outside Nantgaredig, my headlights picked up a woman rolling a stroller on the shoulder, which was all of two feet wide. Her husband preceded her and the family’s Border...
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Like other foreign handlers who’d compete at the World Trials, I was desperate to trial on Welsh Mountain Sheep. If practice was necessary, trials were more so. At a sheepdog trial one’s every unexamined presumption, lazy understanding, or ego-gratifying misreading of dog and/or sheep invites swift retribution...
Fifteen Minutes of Fame
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On bad days I think I trial sheepdogs to shorten my time in purgatory. I was thinking such thoughts at 5:30 a.m. while crossing Welsh mountains in the fog. The roads hadn’t improved but at least I couldn’t see them. David Rees had advised, “When you get to Pen-y-bont village, just ask. Everybody knows Glynn Owens.”...
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Judges call off (DQ) handlers for grips, abusing the sheep, dog off course, failure to progress, and inept work. When a trial is overbooked, after the first dozen runs the judge will call handlers off after they’ve lost an arbitrary number of points. If that “standard” doesn’t relieve overbooking, the judge will raise it and call a handler off if he misses...
The Dogs’ Sabbath
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The next day dawned dry and fine. Wales shook itself like a wet
dog and became a green and pleasant land.
Enough was enough. Mr. and Mrs. Dog had endured too many high-stress days.
Yeah, I know: they’re only dogs. Yep, life is stress. Would you have done as well as they did? They’d been body-rolled (helpless!) by dog-ignorant...
The Parade of Flags and Dogs
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Dinefwr Country Park is an eight-hundred-acre estate with
a grand manor house and the ruins of Dinefwr Castle looming
over what would be June’s qualifying field. I never visited either
I buzzed right past hundreds of Welsh historic sites. Wales is famous for trout streams, craggy hills, and sublime vistas. I cursed the narrow bridges...
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A Scot muttered, “I’ve been coming to Wales for sixty years
and I’ve never seen so much rain.”
Every Welsh man and woman I’d met at the smaller trials was working the World Trials today. There were food kiosks (my favorite: “Mobile Indian Cuisine”), a Renault exhibit, crook makers, a cider and perry...
Eternity in an Hour
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Luke was out of the running. June would decide if we got through to the semifinals. How many miles had it been? How many trials on how many fields? How many training sessions? The Latin root of “hallucination” is “alucinatus”: “to dream.”...
Only a Dog
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You didn’t know how much you cared. Hell, she was only a dog.
Nothing special. A Heinzy — 57 varieties. Just a mutt.
But she . . .
Six months after your dog died you still can’t talk about her. You turn your face away, embarrassed by your tears.
Only a dog....
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I wish I could meet your dog. I hope these stories remind you of
him. I hope reading about Luke and June helps you see your dog a
Ralph Pulfer was a sheepdog genius: his life was dogs. In fifty years, he won hundreds of trials. I once saw Ralph handle a young dog through a...
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The morning after June and I didn’t qualify for the semi-finals
of the World Sheepdog Trials was cool and foggy.
I didn’t attend the semifinals. The dogs and I hiked across sand dunes toward the distant beach. Other dog-walkers appeared and disappeared in the fog but none came near. It was a morning for mistakes, for...
The Double Lift
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Sunday was clear; no fog and the light was incandescent. The dogs and I drove to Llandielo for the finals of the World Sheepdog Trials. At important trials, the ultimate competition is the “double lift,” and the World Trials would be no exception. The double lift is the most difficult test of a sheepdog. We ask the dogs to do more than they can...
Acknowledgments, Further Reading
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Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013