Her Very Own Key

Surveying her territory
Surveying her territory

Cali got her own key last night.

Readers of Merle’s Door — or Cali, the Ghost, and the Dog Door or A Doorway to Your Dog’s Independence — will understand the significance of this moment.

Deni’s house in Montana has an electronic dog door. The dogs each wear a magnet on their collars. The magnet opens the door, letting the dog go outside, into the fenced dog yard. It’s a nice dog yard with its own deck and a fabulous view of the mountains and valley. Lucky dogs.

Cali had learned about dog doors in our Florida house, but her key privileges were quickly rescinded when she spent her time chasing and eating lizards, digging, and going in and out and in and out and in and out … Our California apartment has no dog door, and Cali’s outdoor privileges are often suspended due to incessant digging and / or barking at the neighbors. If you can’t handle the freedom, I tell her, you have to stay with me.

Cali clearly treasures the privilege, as she showed us the first time she got a key and went in and out and in … She no longer does that, but she does relish opening her own door — often waiting for the dog door to open and using it even when we’re walking through the people door at the same time. Jana and Alberta, on the other paw, will stand by the people door and bark for their staff. When we fail to materialize and open the door promptly enough, they’ll disdainfully resort to using the dog door.

Cali convinced us of her increasing maturity, after spending most of an afternoon stretched out in her “bearskin rug” pose, watching the world go by. That world included a few deer, many squirrels, and an enormous truck that dumped four loads of dirt and gravel on the driveway. Nary a bark was heard nor a hole dug. Our baby is growing up!

Well … not so fast. Increased wildlife activity in the evening required closing the dog door. Barking at deer in the morning prompted a brief suspension of Cali’s privileges.

Even with these bumps in the road, it’s clear that Cali has turned a corner. She’s much more thoughtful and better able to rein in her abundant enthusiasm. She still gets excited (very excited) about meeting new people or heading out to play ball, but she can get a grip on her enthusiasm, sitting and trembling all over rather than jumping straight into a stranger’s arms, for example. As we walk to the play yard, she skips ahead, remembers, backs up, skips ahead, remembers, backs up … over and over. I don’t have to say a word. She rarely even gets to the point of pulling at the end of the leash anymore. And, last week, a friend asked whether 6-month-old Scarlett would “be as nice and calm as Cali when she grows up.” Granted, the friend hadn’t known Cali for very long …still, it was a nice compliment.

Scarlett, at 6 months, already shows her strong personality and intelligence. However, she’s heading full-speed-ahead into adolescence, and she lacks impulse control. Cali was similar at that age. Watching them together provides a nice reminder that, if you get through those crazy months, you just might end up with a wonderful adult dog at the other end of that long, dark, frustrating tunnel.

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