Lessons from Gita: Learning new tricks from an old dog

Gita

Gita at 16

My old dog knows lots of stuff. She’s learned some tricks and she knows how to adapt to change. I can learn a lot from her.

Gita came to live with us in 1998, with the cats and the newts (and the snake and other wee beasties to come). She’s our first family dog; my husband Steev and our sons’ dog.

We adopted her when the kids were four and seven. Unfortunately, our pet rabbit had just met its demise due to a marauding raccoon in the backyard of our Toronto home. Fortunately, this proved the perfect opportunity to convince Steev that a dog would be ideally suited to our situation.

Adapt

Gita with her family

Gita with her new family in 1998

I found the perfect adoptable dog immediately. Gita was known as Nikki at the time, but since we had neighbours on both sides and family members by that name, we hoped she could adapt to a new one. She did! Gita was just over a year old. She’d lived tied up in a barn since the young girl already had a number of dogs and her parents said no more! Despite this, Gita never lost her love for people. She adores them and expects adoration back.

Gita finds her boy on the sledding hill.

Gita finds her boy on the sledding hill

Gita learned to ride the Toronto streetcars and subway as we travelled the city without a car. Or, she ran alongside the bike. We visited dog friendly parks near and far. Gita “saved” my son once when my brother-in-law spun him around and told him to scream real loud (because Gita had run off across the dog park and Paul wanted her to come back). She came racing at top speed across the park to make sure her boy was OK. She could find her boys on a hill of sledding kids.

Keep moving

Then, we moved to another city in 2001. Gita got lost and got found, thanks to her microchip and friendly neighbours. She loved the new park where everybody off-leashed their dogs and some people handed out treats too readily. The poor dog had to undergo a goose-egg-sized kidney stone removal at the super vet for well over a thousand bucks. We were so happy she pulled through! It was hard for Gita to learn that she couldn’t take treats from everybody after that!

One night, Gita met a skunk and staggered inside through the newly installed dog door, carrying its chemical warfare throughout the house. She never pursued a skunk after that (although its scent pursued us and our household for many months afterwards).

Stay curious

Next, we moved farther out into the country. It’s dog heaven-on-earth, but Gita had some more learning to do. She took on a full-size porcupine and the 50-plus quills she had in her face (lips, nose, nostrils, gums, tongue, and more) meant we had to get the scissors and pliers out immediately. It took three of us at least half an hour with many intermissions. When she just couldn’t take it anymore she would slink away crying. I’d say, “Gita, come. C’mon back, we’re not done.” And she’d come! She knew we were helping no matter how much it hurt. Gita worked her way down through another four more encounters with the porkies until the last time (sometimes, lessons are painfully hard to learn). Then, she didn’t even raise her head to look at me, but just rolled her eyes and let me pick baby quills out of her muzzle with my fingers.

Gita was never all that keen on dogs her own size. They were fine if they were little (she’d always stick up for the underdog; like a nanny, she’d go running in to divide dogs that were getting too boisterous with each other) and scary if they were bigger (one day in the dog park woods I heard her yelp and come racing back, tail between her legs, followed by two graceful Great Danes who sauntered along the trail, oblivious to Gita’s fear). However, if a dog was a good match for her, Gita was all bluster and bravado. To this day, walking by the neighbour’s place where the working border collies live brings out the beast in her!

Change your hat without fear

Gita and Dex in the misty morning.

Gita and Dex in the misty morning

Still, she has learned acceptance and tolerance. A couple of years back, as I realized she was getting on and I thought maybe she could teach a new dog some tricks before she aged much more, we got another dog. Dex is a big goof who matches Gita perfectly (like yang to yin). He is also very insecure and challenging, coming from a difficult background. He even barks at us if we put on a new hat! I think Gita assumed he was just visiting and tolerated him. But, he stayed, and she’s learned to like him as she trains him.

I think he’s brought her energy up. Gita is at least 16 years old now. She has cataracts, fat lumps, difficulty walking when she first gets up, and aches and pains. But, she doesn’t let that hold her back. She only does a little bit of grumbling, especially as it nears dinner time, give or take an hour or two. She can’t hear me anymore on the trail so she’s leashed all the time to protect her from snowmobiles and bears. But she loves our walks and the opportunity to see, or smell, new things.

Love to learn

Dex and Gita sharing the bed.

Dex and Gita sharing the bed

Throughout all these years, Gita still loves to learn. She can’t get her paw up easily for a shake these days and she certainly can’t do rollover. But she’s learned tolerance and even bed sharing with another dog. She’s learned to leave our semi-feral (neutered) pet rabbit alone (but not its pellets)! She’s learned that her beloved boys, now grown men, bring home new people to share with her and she loves them for that.

Dog and Snowmobile, Original oil painting by Catherine Orfald

Dog and Snowmobile, original oil painting by Catherine Orfald

Learning new stuff can be fun! Sometimes it hurts and it takes time for the lesson to sink in. But, that’s life. Adapt. Keep moving. Stay curious. Change your hat without fear. And love to learn.

I’m learning that you’re never too old for new tricks!

Thanks Gita! Long may you run.


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