They Should Be Called “Stunks,” What Dogs Never Learn, and Why We Aren’t Any Better

A few years ago, my beloved (and by “beloved” I actually mean my husband, Joel, not Eleanor, although she is beloved as well) and I awaited the arrival of our very own Beatrice, the pup we got to fill the hole that losing Reba had left in our family. This made me think of some German Shepherds past. Growing up, our mum always had a German Shepherd or three around. I have fond memories of matronly dog named Kinker, of sharing green suckers and my bed with Lucy, of the sweet temperament but awful breath of Erma. The lot of them were amazing dogs, fairly effective nannies, excellent travel companions, bosom pals, and in some instances, examples of what not to do. Here are a couple of those stories.

Linus was ostensibly my dad’s dog. He was one of the few male German Shepherds that we’ve had over the years, and he had a giant head. In his thinking, the harder you whacked his head, the more you loved him, and that was okay by him. Buck Sanford, a family friend, nicknamed him “Dumb Dumb,” but I’m uncertain if that was before or after Linus peed on Buck’s leg. I remember that Buck was telling some people that Linus wasn’t that bright and then he looked down, only to realize that he was where Linus decided to mark his territory. Linus loved getting in the vet truck, loved to ride, and most of all, he loved skunks. He never could lay off the skunks, spending many a summer’s night in the backyard because he smelled too wretched to be in the house. He was a good dog, but he lacked impulse control.

Dad had Linus with him one bitterly cold evening, about -20 degrees below zero (and here in Montana, we use Fahrenheit, not that uber-useful metric system), while out on call. A horse had gone through a fence, and Dad was called in to sew the horse back together. There weren’t any lights out in the pasture, so Dad turned on the headlights in the truck and proceeded to stitch. The cold was bone deep, and that tricky sewing job was made that much worse as he couldn’t see the needle to thread it nor feel his hands for very long as he stitched. Linus was left near the vet truck with the admonishment to not wander off and do anything stupid (my brother and I both remember getting–and undoubtedly ignoring–the same warning). While sewing, Dad said that he heard the “snick-snick-snick” of a dog’s mouth trying to snap shut on something, and then….the stench. This wasn’t the gentle waft of unpleasant, this was the full-on wall, the kind that knocks you back on your heels and makes your eyes water and you open your mouth to gag but then you taste the smell so that makes it even worse. It lets you know who is boss–and it ain’t you–and that it will be a good long while before that stink wears off. Linus caught that skunk up close, both barrels, and he howled in dismay.

Have you ever seen a dog so embarassed, so disgusted with himself that he was trying to rub the stink off on anything possible? That was Linus. If anything held still long enough for him to get near it, he’d lean into it hard enough to scrape his hide. He knew that stink was him and he was not happy about it.

It was too cold for Dad to banish Linus to the back of the vet truck for the ride home, meaning that the two of them had to suffer the 30-minute drive back to the clinic in companionable horror. Every so often, Dad’s eyes would begin to water and he would have to roll down his window and stick his head out the window to get some clean air, but then his nose would freeze up and his teeth would go numb and his eyes would water, so it was back to olfactory hell with the dog. Linus wasn’t much help with rubbing against the seat and dash and generally wanting to crawl out the window to escape himself. German Shepherds can be quite vocal in their dismay, and Linus was no exception.

For the record, that was not Linus’s last skunk. No one would have been that lucky.

A few years after Linus, my parents decided to get the daughters of some friends in Colorado a German Shepherd puppy. Mum picked the black-and-tan lovely out, christened her Jana as that is what the girls had decided on, and then sent her to the clinic with dad for a couple of days until he could deliver the wee demon. Dad was pretty good about taking Jana in the truck with him as it kept her out of trouble and got her used to being around people and cattle. She’d need both skills in Colorado. Also in the truck was dad’s new mobile phone. This was in the early days of these magical things, and they were the size of a regular phone, came in a bag, and were a fair chunk of change to procure. But after years of CB radios and then short-wave radios, this was an investment Dad was willing to make. He’d had far too many return trips, missed calls, and lost productivity. This bag phone was a good thing for him, and he loved it.

One afternoon after completing a ranch call, Dad pulled up to the clinic, leaving Jana in the truck. There is still a family debate as to whether Jana first stepped on the automatic door lock and then pooped on the mouthpiece of the bag phone or vice versa, but no matter how you slice it, Dad never comes out on the winning end of this story. After a few days of holding the phone as close to his head as he dared, yelling into the receiver, and then yelling at people that they had to speak up as the dog had pooped on the phone, Dad caved and bought another bag phone. He couldn’t take the god-awful stench. I think he also got tired of people laughing when they tried to talk to him, especially if he thought they were dragging on their conversations unnecessarily simply to prolong their amusement.

What can we learn from these examples:

  • German Shepherds appear in stories that involve strong odors on a regular basis.
  • German Shepherds excel at getting into trouble.
  • My family does not learn from past experience as between the lot of us, we’ve probably had 20 German Shepherds over the years. And yes, I’m probably good for at least a few more.

And with all that, here is Beatrice!


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