‘Déjà vu’ is the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before and when literally translated from the French language, it means “already seen”. I am sure that I am not alone in feeling a sense of Déjà vu at the moment as we watch the news about the rates of COVID-19 and hospitalization numbers rising as the delta variant rages through the country. It seems we are not yet out of the woods on this pandemic and there are no doubt some more stressful days to come.
So, while thinking about these trying times recently, I got some welcome light relief when our Flat-Coat Retriever, Georgie Girl, happily greeted me with her usual ‘gift’ of a toy in her mouth. Part of me is envious of dogs’ ability to live in the moment and not worry about the past or future. Did you know that dogs do not have what the scientists call “episodic memory”? Put simply, although most animals and birds can build knowledge of how to do something (training a dog to ‘go potty’ outside, for example), only humans (except babies) remember the actual experience of learning new information. Ever wonder why dogs treat the dog in the mirror as another dog and not as themselves? Blame episodic memory.
Anyway, lets go back to Georgie Girl the Flat-Coat Retriever. As anyone who knows me and regular readers of this column will realize, I am a dog lover. I have written about Coco, our crazy Australian Labradoodle, and Dexter, our West Highland Terrier before, so today let me tell you about Georgie Girl, the third member of our little pack.
When we came to the USA twelve years ago, we brought our English dogs (two Labradors and a Bearded Collie) with us. As my husband always says, we are “a three dog family”. A year later, I was volunteering at the Savannah Book Festival and I met a lovely lady who became a friend and who was at the time the Executive Director of this fine organization. I needed to meet with her, so she invited me to her home. Within moments of arriving, all thoughts of books and the reason for our meeting were temporarily forgotten as I saw her stunningly beautiful dog with a long nose and a smooth black coat – the first Flat-Coat Retriever (or Flat-Coat) I had ever seen.
Flat-Coats were first bred in the mid-1800s, and were once Britain’s most popular retriever before being overtaken by Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Flat-Coats used to be called the “Gamekeeper’s Dog” because they were very popular on the country estates of the English gentry. However, I had never met one back in the land of my birth and I fell in love with this breed on the spot. Flat-Coats are one of six pedigree retriever breeds which were all bred as hunting dogs: the others are Labrador, Golden, Chesapeake Bay, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling and Curly-Coated. The soft mouths, energy, affinity for water and trainability of retrievers meant that they would swim or run to where the hunted duck fell, gently grip it, and return it to their owner intact in return for praise or a treat. There is more information at www.akc.org
Flat-Coats were originally bred from the St. John’s Dog (an early version of the Lab) and various setter breeds. One of the most beautiful things about Georgie Girl is her smooth, silky black coat which is highly functional: it protects from harsh weather, icy water, and punishing hunting terrain – none of which is very useful in either our home or in beautiful Coastal Georgia of course!
So how did I persuade my husband to switch from his beloved Labrador breed to a Flat-Coat? Our two Labradors were pretty ancient by then and we had already acquired Dexter, the little white Westie. I was pretty determined and was introduced by my friend to one of the few breeders of Flat-Coats in the Southeastern USA. She put us on her list, once we had completed an extensive questionnaire and interview to prove we are responsible and loving dog people – and paid a deposit to prove we were serious.
Finally, in 2012, we brought our puppy home and named her Georgie Girl not only because she is a sweet girl who lives in Georgia, but I have also always liked the old Seekers song of this name. I am biased but she is a beautiful example of the Flat-Coat breed. She has a sleek, thick black coat (her breed also comes in a ‘liver’ brown), with lovely and loving brown eyes, a long “lassie” type nose with feathered legs and tail which wags a lot. She is also smart and thinks she is a lap dog even though she weighs nearly 70 pounds. The one aspect which surprised us is that she does not enjoy swimming but will sit on the pool steps to cool off as she watches our labradoodle and terrier swim around her!
To say that she is affectionate and motivated by food would both be understatements. Of course, this made her easier to train except that the desire to eat and chew was sometimes stronger than her desire to be good when she was a puppy and occasionally to this day. Although she has mellowed with age, she is always up for a meal or snack and will “help out” the other dogs if they are not quick enough to eat theirs. She has also been known to eat some strange and inconvenient things. During her first year with us she ate my passport, my husband’s cell phone, a tube of skin cream and a selection of disgusting items from the woods. I will spare you the details. She taught herself to open doors with handles (as opposed to doorknobs), so we had to change the door hardware in our home to stop her room-to-room roaming. We also had to put deadbolts on our outer doors to keep her from going outside without our knowledge. My husband calls her “The Schnoz´ as her nose is so long and horse-like, and she is constantly gently pushing it into our hands or laps to demand affection. She is a cheerful and loving dog and has learned to smile when she is happy or embarrassed or feeling guilty. Seriously, she mimics us by raising her upper lip and baring her teeth! The retrieving gene is very strong in her and the sight of her coming towards me with one of her toys in her mouth is incredibly sweet and raises my spirits every time. I am very glad we discovered Flat-Coats and she fits into our little pack perfectly!
As this column is the last about our three dogs, I will leave you with a quote generally attributed to author and inspirational speaker Paul Dunn: “My goal in life is to be as good as a person as my dog already thinks I am.”
God Bless America and all the dogs we love!
– ENDS –