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F. Daniel Rzicznek’s books of poetry include Divination Machine (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press 2009) and Neck of the World (Utah State University Press 2007). Co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice (Rose Metal Press, 2010), Rzicznek is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for 2010. He lives and teaches in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Nose in Your Lap by F. Daniel Rzicznek
All dogs, on one level or another, love food, but from my particular experience Labrador retrievers display a rather overt affection for edibles. Jim Harrison, when writing of Sand, his yellow Lab, employs the term “eating problems” before pronouncing her to be “part pig.” Every Lab I’ve known well fits this definition. A training book I once consulted claimed that a “good” Lab will ignore food in favor of retrieving something to hand—a myth, plain and simple. Labs adore food more than anything.
It follows, then, that if people love holiday food, then Labs must love it at least twice as much as standard “people” food. The normal doggy habits (my first Lab Samson loved to steal napkins from the laps of unsuspecting diners and then tear them into confetti on his circular Orvis pillow) take on a more memorable glow during big holiday feasts, but the Lab’s true calling, it seems, takes place in the kitchen as they display a patience otherwise absent from the daily routine. I’ve seen Labs stand guard next to oven doors, carving tables, and garbage cans as if their lives depended on it. They’ll wait for hours, following the continuous action of the kitchen with nose, eyes, and ears, primed for scraps of turkey skin or piping-hot gobs of ham fat to hit the floor. The test seems to be the meal itself. Here are some tips for dealing with Labs and other food-crazed canines during the holiday dining season.
1. When you sit down to the meal itself, don’t be surprised if a wet, searching snout appears at some point in your lap. Say “hello” briefly and then do your best to ignore it.
2. Discourage begging, but encourage scavenging. A seasoned Lab will seek out the children’s table, or better yet, the presence of a highchair. Directing younger dogs toward such bountiful destinations may keep them out of your way.
3. Promote snuggling. An animal with a mind for symbiosis will curl up on top of your stocking feet while waiting for crumbs and morsels to trickle down. All parties benefit from such behavior.
4. Be aware of your location. Keep in mind the propensity for any dog with a long tail—Labrador or otherwise—to unwittingly swat glass ornaments from the lower branches of Christmas trees. Such accidents are guaranteed to cause an unpleasant interruption of your dining experience.
5. Compensate. If you have a soft spot, don’t give in to temptation. The average dog can’t eat a full plate of human food without paying for it later, so buy a bone, toy, or treat for them to enjoy while the homo sapiens settle in for coffee and desert.
6. Temporary exile. My family has been a home to Labs so ill behaved (their common sense overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sights and scents ferrying from kitchen to dining room table) that we’ve had to usher them to their kennels for the duration of mealtime. Don’t be afraid to impose such rule, especially if you’re dining with guests unaccustomed to the behavior outlined in tips 1-5.
7. Walk it off. If you’re like me and you suffer from the temporary holiday-induced delusion that you in fact have a bottomless stomach, don’t succumb to the post-feast doldrums. A tromp through the winter dusk with a happy dog at your side is better than a thousand Rolaids.
Dogs will embrace any excuse for joy and mischief, but a bit of mindful planning and alertness to your pig/dog’s habits and needs will ensure a festive time for all.