Exclusive Excerpt: 'A Man with Three Great German Shepherds'

Retired Navy Warrant Officer, Dan Martin, has adopted three different, female German shepherds; Lucy, a black and tan; Zoe, an all black one; and Ella, an all white one. He reflects upon their nature and observes Ella’s surprising transition from docile to wild.

I don’t know about all dogs, but German Shepherds are bred to be highly focused, which helps explain some of their neurotic, obsessive/compulsive behavior such as digging, chewing, tail chasing, scratching, fixating on red laser points.

If they’re not working, they need to be doing “something”. It’s their ability to focus that keeps them on guard over a flock of sheep, maintaining the perimeter, preventing sheep from straying.

But they also like to focus on their master. They scrutinize every move and gesture I make. What am I doing? What next? Is he getting food? Can I have some? Does he look like he’s about to take us for a walk? He’s getting his car keys. Does that mean we go to the dog park or is he going away to the place where he brings back bags of food? Is he wanting to rub my belly? Huh? Please, can’t you see I’m asking you to with my eyes? Why’s he petting the other dog? What about me? My turn? Can I have some of your food?

The genius of dogs is their ability to read people.

A smart dog has the brain power of a two or three year old toddler which is part of what makes them charming and endearing – they seem like children, permanent children, but this is misleading. An adult German Shepherd is not like a child, but an animal with a set of instincts, built in duties it desires to perform: hunt, mate, nurture, protect – that a child knows little or nothing about.

A dog can go from being a complacent and sweet pet to a ferocious killer in a second, as I saw Ella do on one occasion.

Ella is a timid, self-contained creature. She doesn’t wrestle or mock fight with Lucy and Zoe, as they do with each other. She avoids them when they go into their roughhouse mode.

They all hate (love) squirrels and will chase one out of the yard, or follow one along the power lines in the back behind the house. Sometimes they’ll chase one into a small orange tree in the middle of the back yard, but Lucy and Zoe lose interest whereas Ella will maintain guard and vigil for hours, all day if necessary, in complete stillness as she waits for the squirrel to screw up enough courage to make a break for it so she can chase it once again.

Ella will lie in the house studying the back yard hoping a squirrel will make an appearance. If one does, she will signal her eagerness to get outside, and when I let her out, she is quiet and full of guile whereas Lucy and Zoe storm out the door barking and whining, never coming close to getting a good chase going.

Ella never gets bored and whiney like Zoe. If it isn’t raining, every day is an action day for Ella because there are squirrels in the world, and she just has to wait.

I was walking Ella solo on a nice fall day. She was behaving well, staying at my knee, stopping when I stopped, following my hand gestures so that I relaxed, and enjoyed paying attention to the start of autumn in River Park, and its bright array of different foliage.

I hadn’t noticed that squirrels were out in force collecting food for winter, and being driven by that need so as to ignore close dangers such as a dog coming to within three feet of one of them.

Ella sprang at the squirrel and caught it by the neck and began shaking it like a rag.

“Stop! Ella!”

She did. She dropped the squirrel who dragged itself away on its front legs as if its spine was broken.

I was mortified. That poor little creature.

I looked at Ella. Her eyes were flush with excitement, her mouth open in grinning happiness, congratulating herself on her prowess, quickness, and ferocity.

I couldn’t rebuke her. She’d done nothing wrong, but had finally gotten to do what she was born to do, catch her dinner.

Yet, in a second she’d gone from a timid and docile pet to a lioness cutting out a wildebeest calf. Incredible. Nature, red in tooth and claw.

That’s one of the differences between a toddler and a domesticated wolf.

You can purchase “A Man with Three Great German Shepherds” at Amazon.

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