The Happy Birthday Stick

Boxer and his big stick

Boxer and his big stick

I’ve been studying Boxer’s quirks since he moved in and get the biggest kick out of his obsession with sticks.

I used to introduce him at the dog park as the Golden Retriever who didn’t retrieve. Throw a ball or stick and, sure, he’d chase it, but then he’d hang out in its general vicinity, looking around, clueless. Occasionally, he’d pick it up and… drop it. At other times he’d even trot a few feet with it, his tail wagging happily, but that’s it. He wouldn’t bring it back so I could throw it again. He was oblivious to the very thing he was genetically engineered for: retrieving it.

If I didn’t go get it, games of fetch stopped in his muddy tracks. I even wondered if he was teaching me to fetch I spent so much time getting the damn stick myself. Fetch is a great way to exercise a dog, and Boxer was portly enough to need it. So I persevered. Maybe he spent enough time in the dog park, watching other dogs get their sticks thrown again and again that he finally clued in, but I doubt it. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

I finally used the old milkbone solution. Whenever he’d pick up a stick I’d thrown, I’d call him over for a treat. If he made it to within two paces of me whilst still in possession of the stick, he got a treat. If he dropped it halfway, uh-huh, no deal, no treat. (We had a few stalemates over this technicality.)

We kept this up, week after week, until one day it seemed to dawn on him that this was his mission in life: I retrieve! Eureka, he seemed to be saying with his happy trot and wide doggie grin. And not only that, but once Boxer retrieves a stick, he adopts it.

He’s not a possessive dog — he’ll drop his stick for anybody who asks. Throw it in the park and he’ll back off if a dominant dog wants it. But when it’s time to go home — that stick is coming with us. And he won’t leave the park without it.

Boxer seems to become attached to them. The adoption process usually begins with a good roll. He likes to find a patch of fresh snow or lush grass, toss his stick down, and roll on it in glee, back and forth, over and over, until he ends up a few feet away, still rocking and rolling. Oh the look on his face when he does. (And if one of his quirks wasn’t a terror of being photographed, I’d have a ton of photos of it for you!)


Rocking and rolling on his stick

He also insists on carrying the sticks home, something that’s brought a smile to the face of many a driver passing us on the road. He trots home merrily with it, his tale wagging, showing off his prize.

I’ve put a champagne bucket by my door where we keep the sticks. What really makes his day is when I take a stick from it when we head out for a walk. He has to carry it himself, and he’ll race to the park with it, no stopping for a pee on the way. And that stick must make the return trip with us, or he won’t go home.

And in the middle of winter in two or three feet of snow, he kept losing it. I’d throw it, he’d roll on it, and by the time he stopped, he’d made snow angels on a forty foot patch and buried it for good. He’d be out there forever, nose buried under the snow, refusing to come until we’d found that stick and brought it home. I dug many a hole but we lost many sticks over the winter.

If I try to substitute another stick, uh-huh, he has to take his stick home. Sometimes we can’t take his stick home. Maybe someone — like him! — chewed it up at the park and it’s just bits of wood now. Or maybe some other dog chewed it to pieces, as if to say, Ha! It was yours, loser. Or maybe the stick is just too damn big.

Boxer adopted one stick that was so big and so long, he could barely carry it. I tricked him into leaving it behind the first few times until it finally got buried in a snow bank. But now it’s spring… and guess who found the big stick yesterday?

Well, Boxer just insisted on taking it home. Nothing would budge him, nothing could coax him, no trick would fool him into leaving it behind. It’s so long Gandalf could use it as a walking stick. Boxer struggled home with it. A ten minute walk took four times that long. It teetered lopsidedly in his mouth, one end dragging on the path. He kept stopping and dropping it and looking to me for help. I’d show him how to hold it in the middle, and off he’d go, a few more feet towards home.

When we got home, I put it in the champagne bucket with the rest of his adopted sticks. That’s usually the end of the story, until its return trip to the park. But not that big stick. Oh no. He paced, he whined, he wanted that stick. He’s a good dog, and if I tell him to go lay down, he will. But not this time.

After an hour I finally gave up and took the stick out and laid it in front of the door for him, knowing he’d chew it to bits and I’d have a colossal clean up.

Uh-huh. He still paced and whined, this time by his toy box right beside his human’s spot on the sofa. So, I finally moved it there. Then he surprised me again: he settled back down in front of the door to wait for his dad to come home from work.

Fast forward a few hours, his dad comes home and sees the stick by his end of the sofa and says, WTF?

We couldn’t figure this quirk out at first. Why didn’t Boxer chew it up? Or leave it in the bucket with the others? Why wasn’t it okay in front of the door? Why did it have to be in front of his dad’s spot on the sofa?

Then it hit me.

It’s his Dad’s birthday this week, and Boxer wanted to give that great big stick to him for his birthday.



Pedestrians beware!

About The Patron Saint of Dogs
Writing The Patron Saint of Dogs is my way of helping to save abused and abandoned dogs and cats in the real world. A portion of every sale will be donated to animal rescue organizations in Canada and around the world. My name is Colleen MacDougall and I was a dog walker and pet sitter for 11 years. Many of the furry characters in this book are reincarnations of wonderful animals I was able to know, love and help, especially Jules, who is Grace's partner-in-crime now, but was my furbaby and the very first person I hope to see in that great off-leash park in dog heaven.

10 Responses to The Happy Birthday Stick

  1. oceanwave12 says:

    Boxer is a great present-chooser!

  2. Pingback: The Adventures of a Wet Retriever | The Patron Saint of Dogs

  3. HL Carpenter says:

    Perfect! What a personality Boxes has!

  4. Barbara Lavelle says:

    Nothing so heartwarming as seeing a joyful dog, whether he’s having a good roll or pridefully carrying his stick. Sounds like Boxer has all the angles covered and must be a source of fun and laughter to you and Ari, both. Wonderful!

    Sent from my iPad


  5. puppynumber7 says:

    *chuckles* The purrfeck birthday pressie from daddy’s boy!

  6. Oh how I love that dog. What a wonderful post.

  7. words4jp says:

    That is an absolutely wonderful stick. The perfect birthday present.

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