We’d already done the rescue-dog-dance once, so this time around, I used Petfinder.com and we just told the rescues what they wanted to hear. “Yes, we promise not to let him ever stick his head out car windows as obviously he can get dust in his eyes.” I was searching for Border Collie mixes, because in my agility magazine, Border Collies were listed in the top 10 best breeders for agility and I found a 10-month-old mix named Happy who had Border Collie coloring. We emailed his foster mum and asked if he was smart. She said, definitely. She had multiple fosters and he always came when called. We went through the references-home-check shebang with the rescue, got approved, and then met him at a vet’s office. That was a little awkward, since basically our first introduction to him was walking him down the side highway in Rockville, MD. But okay, he seemed sweet. We took him home.
Now mind you, the rescue told us that they were planning to check in on him every year to make sure we were taking good care of him. This detail is important, because shortly after we got Toby home, he started to bite people. He wasn’t dominant aggressive like Sophie, so presumably he was trying to use his long forgotten sheep herding tendencies. But it was still a problem because he bit a neighbor hard enough to rip the guy’s jeans, and Toby bit me in the butt while I was on a swing and I can attest that was not pleasant. We went back to the rescue and asked for help. They told us to take him to an obedience class and then they fell off the face of the earth and we never heard from them again.
So we took him to an obedience class held by a well known dog training organization in the area. It was a positive reinforcement class using food. It was then I discovered Toby just wasn’t all that smart. I don’t know what else he was crossed with, but I like to joke that he was a mix of Border Collie, horse, and potato. He had the coloring of a Border Collie, he was stocky and strong like a horse, and had the smarts of a potato. We‘d call him the Tobitator, because “he was just barely smarter than a ‘tator.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Toby was sweet. He had buckets of love to give you. He had big paddy paws, a big tongue that he used to try to give sloppy kisses, and he did eventually learn not to bite people. This message seemed to really phone home the day Toby bit the garbage man and the garbage man chucked an empty trash can through the air at Toby and the can nearly hit him. But Toby was not going to be my agility dog either. I remember working on heel at my obedience class. I had smelly cheese I was trying to lure him with, but Toby didn’t want to move. The trainer told me to walk away and he’d follow. It didn’t work. He lay down and was like, “Nope. I’m good. I’ll stay here until you’re ready to go home.” The trainer even gave me a jar of peanut butter to try to lure him. Toby loved food. But Toby was not going to budge.
It wasn’t just the training center that overwhelmed him. He did want to please us, it was just that he stuck to what he knew regardless of what we were trying to get him to do. I remember trying to get him to come down the driveway to cross the street and go for a walk in the field. He was standing on the front porch. We called, “Toby, come!” He bolted down to the barn kennel with the buried two-by-fours instead. We called again. He ran back to the front porch. We repeated this pattern twice more, before we eventually walked over to him and hooked him to a lead before walking him down the 20 foot driveway.
He and my Dad had a special bond though. Dad would give Toby “air kisses,” by kissing him on the nose, and then when Toby would reach up to return the favor, Dad would move his head away, which left Toby licking the air.
By now, I was 17. I didn’t have much time left to try agility, but Mom took pity on me and said maybe we could be a three-dog family. This time around, I began to look for a Sheltie breeder as we’d already struck out twice going the rescue route. However, before I found a Sheltie puppy, some friends of ours who had the sweetest, most friendly American Eskimo Dog on the planet had a litter of puppies and asked if we were interested. I looked up Eskies. They were smart, and our friend’s dog Lily was a total gem. So we said yes, and that’s how we got Pearl.
Read Pearl’s Story.