Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rumble in the Jungle

Opening a carton of yoghurt no problem
I reckon that from the time I gave Max his first meal, on that first day, he realised I was a force of some sort. Over the first couple of days he immediately settled in to being a house dog, no messy problems, keeping to the floor and getting more at ease with me. Going for walks he stayed in the perfect heel position, head at the side of my leg, and soon started to stay and intermittently heel to command. Basically very mellow would sum him up. But then for the last couple of days, the second half of week one, he's gained some individuality, shown some emotion, gained some roots for this new life style and, of course, started testing his boundaries a wee bit. The first sign was showing some recognition for me which has progressed to checking up on where I am to, once he realised sofa's are rather comfy, getting up and lying down next to me. Though he's off in a few minutes as floors are preferable being cooler. Other little signs are "Moi, I'm doing nothing", as he's walking out the door with the new bog roll in his mouth, or my flip flop is not by the back door where it lives, but on the sitting room carpet. And then I could only be impressed when having left his dinner in a sealed plastic container I came home to find he'd obviously got his front paws up on the work surface, levered the lid off, picked the rim of the bowl up with his teeth, placed it on the floor and self serviced!
Then a couple of nights ago we had the Romeo visitation which inevitably had to take place one day and sooner more likely than not, as Romeo is the leader of the local pack and needs to check up on new comers to our corner of the sugar estate. So up and over the five foot wall and there he was, after dark, outside the kitchen door just as Max comes meandering through. Max stopped dead still at the door and just looked, then Romeo growled and voom Max lunged. Romeo was bowled over, but Max wasn't done as he just followed up with no hesitation. By the time I'd got my flip flops on to cross the gravel Max had shown Romeo that this was not his patch and that Max was not a dog to be growled at on home turf. And Romeo was hurdling the garden wall. Well, fair play I reckon as long as it doesn't happen outside our territory and, thankfully, no signs of that as yet.
Trainer Louise & son Ramesh
But the other side of the story is so much is still new to him. Up my track is the main road and Max had only come across the occasional vehicle before arriving here, so was getting really skittish going out for a walk, to the stage of sitting down in protest. But then trainer Louise and son Ramesh arrived yesterday morning for second session and had him straight out on the road and walking down towards town. Main tactic was just ignoring him and if he stopped just gently tugging him back to heel again and walking on. Fifteen minutes later and we're outside the mighty Winners, our main small town supermarket, with cars turning in and out, street vendors selling Puri Bhagi, Barfi, whatever, and all sorts of sights and sounds. But by then Max was being really cool. As he was when I took him back in to town this morning. Break through. I've never really come across dog trainer's in work mode before but I'm well impressed with how these guys so easily overcame what had become a wee bit of a dilemma for me. Even if they do look like Mauritian special forces.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Brave New World

9.00 in the morning Saturday and Louise and his son arrive outside the church in Vale. Son is the trainee trainer and so mimics Dad's training outfit of baggy pants tucked into Doc Martin type boots, peaked cap and the essential bum bag with choke chain on the hip. We head down to the field and it's all action there as half a dozen lads are loading up a truck with everything in sight to transport all to the main base of operations down the coast. Consequently Max and mutt are skittish as obviously something is up. But Louise reckons he seems a cool dog so Jerone loads him in to his pick up and pick up follows bike who follows scooter, that's my mode of transport, and we head off the fifteen minutes back to my 2 room mansion on the old sugar plantation. 
Wee Housie
My wee housie is just spot on as far as I'm concerned. A perfectly nice sized kitchen leads into the sitting room, equally a good size. With the kitchen door at one end and double doors leading on to the verandah, at the other end, the room always has a nice breeze blowing through and is pleasantly light and airy. Through the bedroom their's a loo and around the corner a sink and then the back door leads to my outdoor shower, walled in of course and overhung by one of my mango trees. Perfect, even in mid winter September. Then the great part is the wild garden surrounded by a volcanic rock wall which at it's lowest is about 5 foot. The garden consists of palms, mangoes, banana trees, 2 towering flame trees with creepers with 2 foot leaves entwined around them, a variety of shrubbery and other flora and fauna such as bougainvillea, hibiscus, coleus, ferns, bamboo and then my rosemary, curry tree, bayleaf, citronella and more. The ground base is part grass, part natural volcanic rock and gravel drive and pathways. So theoretically this should be a perfect location for a dog like Max to start a new life. 
Jerone brings Max in to the garden, let's him off the lead and then leaves fairly swiftly. Job done, responsibility over. Max, aged 6 months, is now left with three strangers, trainer Louise, trainee trainer son and me. He is in a strange new environment, he's never worn a lead, let alone a collar and he's never been in a house before. And he's only ever eaten mushy white rice with chicken feet! Brave new world or what. 
Max after 2 hours in his new home
For fifteen minutes or so he sniffs around the garden being mildly wary of us and not letting us close enough to leash him, until trainee trainer quietly collars him. Then for another fifteen minutes or so I lead him around the garden in a random pattern calling him to heel, where he remains one hundred percent, without any pulling or rebellion. Then the training duet depart telling me not to let him off the lead outside for a couple of days. Two hours later he's off the lead outside and quite happily exploring his new home. But how does he see it? Taken away from all he knew and deposited somewhere new. Shit, when I was kicked off to boarding school aged seven it was tears and desperate prayers to be magically transponded home for the first two weeks!
Opening the verandah doors Max enters a house for the first time with me in tow. He sniffs his way through to the kitchen and before I can stop him has a quick squirt against the fridge. Well it was predictable, but then when he goes through the motions two more times and I premeditate him and say 'No', just as the leg's about to be cocked, that seems to be potty training done and dusted. Through the rest of the day I tend to let Max do his own thing which tends to revolve around snoozing in a variety of locations on the floor, on the carpet or out on the verandah. Otherwise he sniffs around the house and garden and seems to be accepting everything in his stride. Good start I reckon, though a long way to go.
Settling in
Late afternoon and dinner time comes up, though Max's culinary delights now consist of gizzard, veg, garlic, soy and a bit of oil simmered for a couple of hours and mixed with brown rice. Max eats, what I'd reckon is a normal portion, and that seems to be day 1 concluded successfully. But of course I'd forgotten about mother cat and kitten who'd been coming round for dinner recently. Kitten meowing and pawing my ankle in a demanding manner and mother keeping her distance until the meal is served. Well I reckon it was best to carry on as norm and see what developed, as has to come to confrontation sometime. True to form they're outside the kitchen door, heads down in the bowl, as Max wanders in and stops, stares, takes it in and bounds. At the last second two varying sized bundles of white and grey fur go skywards, turning 180 degrees in mid air, land and in a blur head for the wall and safety. Max was in hot pursuit, but I don't know if he knew what he would have done if he had caught up. So for the next twenty minutes he patrolled the back wall and then all went back to normal until the second confrontation of the night. Romeo, an Olympic high jumping mutt is owned, but not controlled, by the Germanic Anna, on whose windscreen I one night left a message saying 'S'il vous plaisez. Will you please shut your fucking dogs up'. Consequently this earned me a visit from the local constabulary at 8.00 the following morning, though the visit was instigated by her fourth generation Germanic Mauritian neighbour Cedric who got the duplicate note. The plods stood back and observed as we went at it, though mainly in English unless I wanted them to understand what I was saying. I think I came out alright as his threats of pressing a charge for trespassing never materialised. I was actually more concerned that I might have a mysterious diving accident after relating the saga to my dive boss Olivier who said 'Ja, that's my brother'! Anyway Romeo used to hop, from a standing start, 5 feet on to the wall, and over, to play with Frankie, and then since she headed off to the Pearly Kennels would periodically visit to see if there was anything to scavenge. Same scenario ensued with a meeting outside the back door and Romeo retreating over the wall. But credit where credit's due as he was back again half an hour later. He's actually a cool dog is Romeo and no doubt he'll end up being mates with Max and then they can do a few k's around the garden of an evening. Doors locked, good night and no messes eight hours later. Yes, looking good. Two hours after writing the last sentence, and five days later, 'Maybe not' as Max just beat the shit out of him. but he's on Maxi's plot so ... To be continued.  

In the Beginning

In the beginning Max, or Maxi, I don't know officially which as yet, as I haven't been given his street credentials to date, was purchased, at three months old, for the princely sum of 25,000 rupees, 600 quid, in order to live in a field surrounded by a 3 metre high fence. Said field was 500 metres from the nearest road and despite being called a farm consisted of 2 containers, various piles of wood offcuts, sacks and a wood chipping tractor attachment. Max was there to deter wood chip thieves, despite the fact any old dog would do as Mauritian's, as with most third world folk, are terrified of the smallest of dogs. But the South African Boss Chipper wanted the best and was going to pay for it. And then three months later paid for it, in a different manner, when he decided to move his operation back to his homestead in Balaclava where the presence of Max would cause a problem with his other hounds. So who wanted to take on a, now, six month old Dobermann? 
Dear Frankie
Oliver, of French Mauritian extract, who is a foreman for the African, lives next door to Johanna, my landlady, of similar extraction though more hoity toity, rather Grand Cru to Vin de Table, shall we say. And so while he is unsuccessfully searching for a new home for Max, with the deadline for abandoning the farm looming, hears that I might be interested since dear Frankie, my German Shepherd, passed away 6 months ago. And so contact is made, Oliver explains the situation and would I be interested? Well, to be honest, I haven't really known any Dobermann's personally and, yes, I know they're highly intelligent, loving and trainable etc and their reputation is rather more due to the irresponsible twats who are looking to bolster their macho image and consequently don't do the training bit, but I've always been rather nervous at the thought of taking one on. But I said I'd go by and have a gander and so rang Jerone, the occasional watchman cum Max feeder and arranged to be there at 9.00 the following morning.
The so called Farm & bags of wood chips
After half an hour of going up and down dead ends I finally hit on the right track and arrived at the fenced in plot, Jeronneless, but with the gate wide open. And there was Max, mammoth for only 6 months and looking every bit the very serious dog of a Dobermann I'd imagined. Except I never imagined he could've got so huge at 6 months. Prancing around and semi growling, but never crossing the line of the open gate, he had no problem deterring me from entering. And that is what immediately impressed me as I've always been amazed at dogs not crossing their boundaries, especially when there has been no training involved, as not an iota of training had so far gone in to Max. And so for ten minutes or so I stood my ground outside the gate and Max stood his inside. Although, of course, there had to be the inevitable little mutt, a stray, who make up at least 50% of the dog populous on the island, but Max's only mate, barking away and winding the whole situation up. No probs though and off I went, only to go through a similar scenario in the afternoon. The next afternoon though Jerone was there feeding Max his dinner, a washing up bowl sized portion of mushy white rice and chicken feet. Max was treating it rather like a Tombola, which I used to find frightfully exciting as a kid, though I can't remember seeing one in the last 40 plus years. A third of his head would disappear in to the mush, snuffle about, and come back out with a chuck's foot. Jerone insisted he scoffed the lot, but he didn't while I was there and anyway so much starchy rice couldn't be good for him... 
Deadline's drawing near, though I don't know what their alternatives are, so do I want a potential ten year plus Dobermann project? Getting more and more tempting, but first I'll get Mauritius' only dog trainer, that I've heard of, give Max the once over. Louise says he'll meet me at nine on Saturday, in 2 days time. So meanwhile, not that I've committed of course, I buy a collar, lead and gristle bone and go by the field a couple of times so Max can register me. He's wary and keeps his distance, but not aggressive, despite the little mutt yapping away.