Our impulsive choice of the Rottweiler breed turned out to be a good one – though it had more to do with luck than brains – for we had made not the slightest effort to find out anything about them before buying one. Our only consideration was that they had a fearsome reputation and were known to be excellent guard dogs. Fortunately, though, as it turned out, Rottweilers suited us very well.
Accustomed as we were to the amazing intelligence of French poodles, the intelligence of a Rottweiler came as a pleasant surprise.
Wolfie was about three or four months old when he displayed such remarkable reasoning ability that if I hadn’t witnessed it myself, and somebody else had told me about it, I would have been highly sceptical.
He and Schnudie had discovered a discarded air filter which Barry had taken from one of our cars. On this occasion Schnudie had it and Wolfie wanted it. He tried to take it from her but she let him know (in no uncertain terms) that he couldn’t have it.
For some minutes he watched her disconsolately and then he went off into another part of the back garden, returning a few minutes later with a small branch full of dried leaves, which he had found lying under a tree. He then kept walking past Schnudie so that the branch waved in her face. At first she paid no attention because she was too engrossed in the air filter, but eventually she noticed that Wolfie had a really cool new toy. And that she wanted it!
She dropped the air filter and made a lunge for the branch. The moment she had gripped it between her little jaws, Wolfie let go of the branch, grabbed the air filter and went off with it in triumph!
Another characteristic which surprised us was how very attached they are to their humans, always preferring to be with them. Wolfie did not much like being inside as he seemed to have been bred to live in arctic conditions, and the fires we had going in winter reduced him to a panting wreck within minutes. But he could always be found as close to us as he could possibly be. If I was in the kitchen he would be lying outside against the back door. If I moved to the back bedroom where I did my sewing and writing, he would come and lie beneath the window. If I went back to the kitchen, he would soon be at the back door once again.
For all their tough reputation, Rottweilers are sensitive dogs and Wolfie seemed to have quite a large dose of it.
When he was still a young puppy – just a few months old – I came into the kitchen to discover him crunching away at the rung of one of the chairs at the kitchen table. As it was of pine, his little teeth had done some impressive damage. Most annoyed (the table and chairs were almost brand new) I raised my voice and reprimanded him severely, upon which he made a dash for the gap behind the washing machine.
Being very occupied with household chores, I left him there.
When I came back to the kitchen a good while later, Wolfie was nowhere to be seen and a short search found him still behind the washing machine, where he sat timidly, with hurt and reproachful eyes.
Filled with remorse I called him out with my best wheedling and cajoling voice. He immediately underwent a transformation and bounced out from his hiding place, happy (and clearly relieved) to be in my good books again. Thereafter I was careful how I disciplined him.
Right from the start Wolfie was a very obedient and highly trainable dog. In fact, he was so good-natured that we sometimes wondered if he was going to be of any use at all as a guard dog. But we need not have been concerned.
No matter what sort of softies they are with their humans, Rottweilers are also very territorial and Wolfie was no exception. He took a dim view of anyone walking round the outside of the property.
Because of our isolation, the company had arranged for regular patrols around the property. Wolfie took great exception to this disturbance of his peace, and followed the security guard from the one side of the back yard to the other (a fair distance because of the size of the property), letting the guard (and us) know that he was on duty and daring him to just try and come over the fence and see what would happen to him!
Anyone coming onto our property without supervision soon discovered their folly.
Most Rottweilers do not immediately attack, but they have perfected the Rottweiler Rush. Without barking but snarling ferociously (some of them forego the snarling, which is even more terrifying – nothing like being charged by a large silent dog!) they rush at the offender stopping just short of the person but with an upward leap. It takes a lot of courage (and knowledge of dogs) to stand your ground, I tell you.
The men who came monthly to read the electricity meter would occasionally take the risk of trying to sneak in unnoticed, because calling me to lock the dogs up first was time consuming. (Eventually they took to phoning me before they came.) The meter was against the wall of an outbuilding, close to the back fence and out of view of the house. Avoiding the back gate, which could be seen from the house, one of them would take a brisk hop over the back fence and quickly read the meter. But without fail I would hear warning shouts as the Rotties, with Wolfie always leading the pack, did their rush, and the risk taker would fly back over the fence to the safety of the company bakkie. (How there came to be more than one Rottie will be explained later in these annals.)
The result was that the pack’s reputation was soon as fearsome as we could have wished, and not once in the nine years of our stay, despite our isolation, did we ever again have an attempted break-in.
This territorial instinct had a downside, however.
A friend came to spend a few weeks with us and she slept in the back bedroom. Every time Wolfie heard her voice, he barked (loudly) into the window, until eventually she was afraid to open her mouth! It was just as well for our sanity that he got used to her and after a few days graciously allowed her to speak without expressing his displeasure!
But for the most part, Rottweilers are remarkably calm and quiet dogs and do not indulge in mindless yapping. If your Rottie barks, then you know it is for a good reason.
To exercise our dogs, we simply opened our gate and took them for long walks along the forest plantations. They also got ample exercise patrolling the fence of the backyard, because aside from the aforementioned security guards, there were twice weekly visits by the garbage truck; garden services, who came weekly during the summer months to cut the lawn, as well as a wide strip of the grass growing around the property; and twice daily excursions of school children passing back and forth between their homes in the forest and the school at Iswepe.
So, while we were living there, we had no reason to take the dogs anywhere in the car excepting to the vet in Piet Retief. And this was how we learned about one of Wolfie’s more pronounced characteristics. He did not like to be embraced.
When he was a year old and had to go to the vet in Piet Retief for his annual vaccinations, it was the first time he had been in the car since he was a puppy. It was then that we discovered that it might have been a very good idea to get him used to travelling from puppyhood, in spite of his tendency to puke, because Wolfie simply refused to get into that car.
Becoming impatient, Barry attempted to pick him up. It is no reflection on Barry’s courage that he instantly let him go. Wolfie made it quite clear that he was not going to tolerate that kind of handling! He did not try to bite, but the intensity of his growl was most intimidating.
We solved the problem by opening the backdoor on the other side of the car as well. Barry held him on leash at one door while I went to the other side, crawled over the seat, took hold of the leash and then drew him in while Barry pushed from behind, and eventually we had him safely in the car.
But, oh, my sainted aunt, that was not the end of the story!
Through the windscreen, he could see vehicles approaching, and these were very clearly intruders into his space. As they went past, his head would turn violently to the side and he would lunge at them, even though the window was firmly closed. Because the traffic was heavy – it usually was, Iswepe being situated on the N2 – this soon led to us having to dodge the great strings of drool which were being flung across the car as he swung his head from side to side!
But without a shadow of a doubt – pun intended – Wolfie’s identifying characteristic was his obsession.
Now, we already had some experience with obsessive canine behaviour. My in-laws’ German Shepherd, two of my parents’ daxies, and our own Bambi (see Velvet Cat) had been completely ball crazy. Tiger, one of the aforementioned daxies, had been especially annoying. If you ignored him and his ball, he would unexpectedly let out a shrieking bark from under the chair you were sitting in and nearly give you a heart attack! Not to mention the damage to your ear drums and auditory nerves!
But Wolfie’s obsession arose quite innocently as a small puppy, when he began to chase dragonflies, of which there were always a great many in our garden. The first few times I noticed it, I found his antics quite hilarious. What made it particularly funny was the sight of this tough, supposedly fierce breed of dog skipping about – like a WWF wrestler daintily prancing around with a butterfly net!
It was not long before he noticed that the dragonflies had shadows and that it was, in fact, easier to chase the shadows. Then, on our walks in the garden and in the surrounding forests, he noticed that humans have shadows too. And unlike the dragonfly shadows which darted about incessantly, the human shadows could be pounced on and, sometimes, even trapped!
We also noticed that he was particularly drawn to the shadows of our hands, making strenuous efforts to catch them. Not realising that we were creating an insatiable appetite, we humoured him as we walked along, putting out our hands to create exciting shadows.
It was also a very convenient way of controlling him, even through a herd of cows, as once happened when he and Tasha were taking a walk.
There were a number of homesteads in our vicinity and each one had a small herd of cows. These herds would be led out to graze on the abundant grass growing round the dam. We tried to avoid them because the dogs considered them to be fair game.
On one occasion, Schnudl, while still quite a small puppy, had leapt into the dam and swum out quite a way to go and give those cows on the opposite bank a piece of her mind! Dieter had had to wade in after her to fetch her. (Fortunately it was in the early part of the rainy season so the dam had not filled up yet.) It also sometimes happened that if the front gate was left open, these cows, with typical bovine mindlessness, would wander into the garden. This would positively enrage the dogs, which were mercifully unable to get at them.
So, when Tasha turned a corner and found herself unexpectedly in the midst of a herd, she was momentarily alarmed. But between Wolfie’s natural obedience and his interest in The Shadow, she was able to guide him through without any trouble at all.
We never had to leash him and he did not wander off. There was no danger of him getting lost or of finding something disgusting to eat, as was the case with our other dogs.
My parents were our official dog and house sitters whenever we went on leave.
On one occasion, while my mom was walking with the dogs down to the dam, Wolfie took her hand between his teeth. For one heart-stopping moment she thought he was attacking her. But, no... All he was doing was pointing out to her that she was failing in her shadow-making duties! She duly humoured him and he was once more a happy dog.
This was what we found so strange. He knew very well that it was not some sort of alien creature but only a shadow, created by our hands. If there were no shadows he would pointedly look at our hands.
The shadow he loved best though was Monster Hand.
As part of our security system there was a fluorescent lamp under the eaves of the garage, which emitted a powerful beam at night. If you put your hand up, the light from this lamp created a beautifully defined shadow, and by moving your hand closer to the lamp, you could enlarge the shadow considerably. Wolfie would be almost beside himself with excitement as he tried desperately to trap this gigantic monster of a hand and pin it to the ground.
In fact, when Schnudie came on heat, we were even able to distract him by making shadows for him! When it came to choosing between the charms of a nubile young lady and The Shadow, it was a no-brainer. (Literally.)
In spite of the convenience of being able to control him in tricky situations, however, if we had realised the full implications of it when it started, we would have made an effort to nip the obsession in the bud.
Wolfie had been an affectionate and sweet-natured puppy, but as time went on, he became rather disengaged from us. Unlike the other Rotties, he sought no cuddles or tummy rubs or any other kind of affection. He continued to like to be as near to us as possible when we were inside, but the moment we came outside he would be on the alert and would crouch, waiting for the shadow.
On overcast days, he did not relax his vigil. He knew that elusive shadow was there somewhere, and sooner or later, it would have to come out!
Even in his old age, when he suffered from the severe arthritis that curses so many Rotties, all stiffness would be forgotten in his quest for The Hand.
As a family, we did not all love all our animals to the same degree. I am not really a cat person aside from Max and my darling Tiger (see The Christmas Cat); Tasha was not overly fond of the poodles and she eventually developed a thorough dislike of Schnudl (not without cause, mind you, as will be revealed in another instalment of this dogeretta); Dieter couldn’t stand Ginger and (with only one exception) never took to any of the daxies we have had; and Barry used to become very exasperated
with Penny, a cross breed Lab we had for a few years.
So it speaks volumes when I say that, without exception, we all loved Wolfie dearly and he has retained a very, very special place in our hearts.
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