As I mentioned Ben’s training was highly suspect. He arrived at my mother’s house as a very nervous, anxious to please, but not sure of his welcome two year old dog. Before that he’d failed to make the grade as a guard dog and then been passed on to my father, who found Ben to be far too much of a woos for his tastes. Ben was then passed on to my mother. My mother had a dreadful record with training animals, they tended to walk all over her (sometimes literally) and a dog as big as Ben, who’d found he liked this new relaxed way of living and took shameful advantage of it, ultimately became too much for my mother and sisters to handle. I was asked if I could find a good home for him.
I felt dreadfully sorry for Ben, but with Aasta, my Old English Sheepdog and Buffy, the Whippet, I couldn’t talk Graeme into adopting a German Shepherd whom Graeme had seen on his worst behaviour. I knew Ben responded to obedience training – he behaved well for my father after all, but finding him a home where he’d quickly learn that he was loved, but had to behave himself was a bit daunting. Until I looked over the fence towards my neighbours. They had had German Shepherds in the past, and preferred that breed to any other. Sonja was a very matter of fact person and Bert, standing and 6’ 4” (this was pre-metric days but converts to 1.9 metres for those modern readers), tended to command everyone’s respect. I made the offer and Sonja was quick to say yes.
Graeme and I picked Ben up from my mother’s home and embarked on the hour’s drive to our place. Ben sat up in the back of the station wagon and enjoyed the sights while I lectured him on the behaviour expected in his new life. Ben listened with half an ear, but I got the feeling that he was enjoying the ride, while plotting more misdeeds when he got back home. Things took a scary turn for Ben when we moved out of the suburbs and into the rural area close to our five acre home at The Oaks near Camden. There was Ben, admiring the scenery and wondering where all the houses had gone when he spotted some huge creatures with horns just a few yards from where he was sitting in the car. Thankfully they disappeared quickly, so he tried to forget all about them but more and more of these worrying looking monsters kept appearing. I could almost hear Ben thinking, “Where are these people taking me? I know my behaviour has slipped a bit lately, but surely they aren’t going to feed me to these monsters!” Ben slowly, so as not to draw attention to himself, sank down until he was below the level of the window. Things improved greatly after that. He couldn’t see the horned monsters and he was pretty sure they couldn’t see him.
We arrived home and I took Ben to meet his new family. Ben behaved politely (I think the cows had duly chastened him for a while), gave himself a tour of Sonja’s five acres, came inside and noted the most comfortable places for a big dog to rest, quickly found out that big dogs rested on the floor in this house, not anywhere they pleased as in his old home. With a philosophical air Ben walked in the circle so many dogs require before settling down and found a comfortable spot of the fluffy mat.
When I said goodbye to Ben, he was inclined to follow me, likely in the hope that I would return him to his home where he reigned supreme. I explained to him that he belonged to Sonja, and with quick presence of mind, Sonja offered him some food in the kitchen while I made my escape. Thus a love affair began to blossom. Ben quickly learned what was and was not acceptable behaviour and Sonja fell in love with this gorgeous boy who was always a bit of a scamp. If Ben did backslide and misbehave in some way, he was scolded straight away. Ben would then retire to the bathroom, sit in the corner and refuse to look at or talk to anyone until he got over his sulks. Occasionally when I visited there’d be no sign of a large German Shepherd and Sonja would simply point towards the bathroom door, standing ajar, with the sight of Ben, face to the wall, ignoring us all. Ben would come out and socialise eventually, letting Sonja know she was forgiven, but it has to be said that Ben’s behaviour quickly improved and he did his best to be a good boy for his new family.
Ben loved following Bert around the five acres, chatting with my two dogs through the fence, studiously ignoring the goats (another horned breed he previously had no idea existed and if it was up to him just wouldn’t exist) and generally enjoyed his new life, despite the enforced rules about things like stealing food, getting up on furniture and pulling on leads when out walking (Bert and Sonja proved to be opposed to all these previous past times of Ben’s).
Ben seemed to remember his guard dog training very sketchily and never showed any tendency to reprise those lessons until one day when Sonja was very ill. Sonja was experiencing a great deal of pain and felt very off on this day. I was out shopping so she couldn’t call on me for help. Because Sonja was in such pain and felt so ill she rang our local doctor and described her symptoms rather than trying to drive into the town. Marvin, the doctor, said he had a room full of patients but would come out and see her as soon as he was free. Tragically Sonja knew there was little use calling the ambulance in the days before GPS. During a medical emergency a few years before this it had taken over an hour for the ambulance to find her house, so as Sonja’s condition worsened and there was no sign of Marvin, Sonja rang Bert at work. Bert came straight home, saw that Sonja was really in a bad way and put her in the car and took her to hospital – just in time as it turned out, Sonja had an ectopic pregnancy and her fallopian tube had burst. She was taken to surgery and Bert settled in to a very worrying wait. Sonja, who obviously had bigger problems on her mind, hadn’t mentioned that Marvin intended coming out to see her, so Bert was completely unaware Marvin needed to be told where Sonja was.
Meanwhile, back at the farm …
Marvin finished his surgery hours and headed out to check on Sonja. He knocked on the door but there was no answer. Sonja’s car was parked near the house so he was sure she hadn’t gone anywhere. When he knocked again and there was no answer he tried the door. It was unlocked so he went inside to check that Sonja wasn’t lying unconscious somewhere. Ben greeted him at the door, and despite never having met Marvin before, greeted him like an old friend, wagged his tail furiously and welcomed Marvin to his home. Ben, remembering the duties that fall to all good hosts, followed Marvin as he conducted a room to room search. Ben wagged his tail some more and behaved as if Marvin was a long lost friend. Marvin was allowed, even encouraged, to check out each room and Ben even helped by nudging open some doors himself. All this lulled Marvin into what turned out to be a false sense of security.
Having established that Sonja wasn’t home and there was no more he could do, Marvin headed for the back door. Suddenly, without warning, Ben channelled his old guard dog training days. He stood between Marvin and the door and with a display that would have made his horrible trainers proud, showed his very impressive set of teeth and emitted a low growl. Ben was clearly saying, “You want to look around the house – that’s fine, I’ll show you all you want to see. Oh, you want to leave? I don’ think so!” Marvin, not surprisingly took a few steps back and Ben immediately became the happy host once again. Each and every attempt to leave however was met with the same show of teeth and low growl from Ben.
Marvin finally had the brilliant idea to see if Sonja had been admitted to hospital. He was put through to Bert (these were pre-mobile phone days so communications were a bit more complicated). Marvin described his plight to Bert and Bert advised Marvin to make himself a cup of coffee, sit down and relax until Bert could get home and set him free.
When Bert arrived home, Marvin made a quick exit. Ben was perfectly willing to let him go now that Bert was here and could check Marvin out to make sure he hadn’t lifted the family silver. Bert, after a word or two to Ben about the correct way to treat unexpected visitors, returned to the hospital and Sonja made a complete recovery. The story of Ben taking Marvin prisoner soon percolated through The Oaks and many had a good laugh at the poor doctor’s expense. Ben remained unrepentant, but was never again called on to play host when Bert and Sonja weren’t home.