Bev McQuain has written a book about the funny and bizarre things that have happened with dogs and their handlers over the forty years that he owned Canada’s largest canine security company. Here are a few excerpts from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Kennel in the second of a two-part weekend series. You won’t want to stop reading!
CHAPTER 3: THIS TIME, A PURE BREED
My time was consumed by my new advertising agency, we had just welcomed a new three-year-old adopted daughter to our family and our city property was still too small for the needs of a Dobe, so Jiggs, a very high energy Welsh Terrier came into our lives.
To expend his pent-up vigour, we regularly played his favorite game; a canine version of volleyball.
We would toss a balloon into the air and he would jump to strike it with his nose sending it high into the air, then like a professional volleyball player, he’d race to be in place to leap up and strike it again as it floated back to earth. I assume that he was actually trying to bite it, but the net result was to drive it high into the air again and again. We lived on a very quiet street, so we often watched him keep the balloon aloft in the breeze to the end of the street and across the fields beyond.
One fateful day friends came to visit, bringing with them a regulation soccer ball. We took it to our back lawn where I booted it high into the air toward my friend who was at the bottom end of our yard. You’re probably ahead of me, aren’t you? … Yes! From the bench rushed the star of the canine soccer team. He zoomed past me and despite my, “No! No! No!”; he launched himself up to meet the plunging missile. I was sure the impact would drive him into the ground, but despite a hefty whack on the nose, he wasn’t seriously hurt. Thus ended his fascination with balloons; he wasn’t going to fall for that one again.
Jiggs had a strange fascination with fire. He came to us at eight weeks of age, so we had no idea what initiated the obsession.
I’m ashamed to say that my wife and I were smokers at the time. When we were out of doors, and dropped a cigarette butt on the ground, we were always quick to tramp it out. As soon as our foot left the butt, the dog would jump on it many times with his forepaws, and then bury it. No sooner did he cover it when he’d dig it up, sniff it, and perform the entire ritual again. After several stomp out, bury and retrieve, he would leave it, satisfied that his job was done.
One Canada Day, before we began to blast off celebratory fireworks in our back yard, we locked the dog safely inside. However, during the evening, one of the children had gone into the house and failed to secure the door upon return.
We were tossing the strings of little mini-bangers; when the ‘fire-dog’ streaked past us to grab it and began to ‘kill’ it by shaking as he would a small rodent.
The dog continued to shake the bangers as they exploded their way to, and right through his mouth and out the other side, still banging to the end of the string. Of course, he then proceeded to engage in his ritual of burying the smoking thing and digging up to check.
We were very concerned that he had received severe burns from the heat and gunpowder of the bangers exploding between his teeth, but the whole thing didn’t seem to faze him, and upon examination, it didn’t appear to have caused any injury.
I am told that Welsh Terrier males are prone to be dog-aggressive, and true to his heritage, he was a pugilistic pup. He challenged anything that appeared vaguely canine. As a result, I was ever alert to the appearance of another dog.
On one occasion, Jiggs and I were returning home from a brief walk. It was a beautiful day so the doors to our home had been left wide open. As we stepped into the split-level entrance, there, casually looking down on us from atop the landing stood a Great Dane! I assumed that the giant had been wandering by, and accepted the ‘invitation’ of the open front door.
I immediately reached to grasp and control Jiggs because he had no respect for size, and this was an intrusion into his territory. However, my dog wasn’t there, he had turned and ran back out the front door.
I breathed a sigh of relief having escaped a canine blood-bath, and I thought that finally, my best friend had developed some sense. Obviously my efforts to curb his natural aggression had paid off.
Suddenly my illusion was shattered when from behind the Dane came my little Terrier in full battle mode. He had raced around to the back door to outflank the intruder.
The Dane never knew what hit him; he was so surprised that he scrambled down the steps, out the front door and down the street with the pint-sized bully trying to catch up.
Eventually, Jiggs responded to my calls, and returned home with the swagger of a war hero returning from a conquest.
I was left wondering if my dog had actually demonstrated reason by determining the best way to approach the skirmish, or was it all a total coincidence.
True to the breed, Jiggs was a pushy little guy, as evidenced when I answered the door to a policeman who asked, “Do you own a little brown and black dog?”
My heart sank as I assumed that Jiggs had been struck by a car, “Yes,” I said, “a Welsh Terrier. Is he all right?”
“He’s just fine,” he said, “but he’s over on the next street, and he won’t let anyone in, or out of their own house”
I hopped into the cruiser (with all of the neighbors peeking out between their drapes), and we drove around the corner to see little Jiggs, standing on a porch, warning my driver’s very big partner that he was to come no closer. Peeking out the big bay windows were the hostages, the lady of the house and her dog. I chuckled, but was sternly chastised by the policeman who informed me that he did not find it at all funny.
I stepped from the cruiser, whistled for the dog, pointed down the street and shouted, “Get home!”
Jiggs scrambled off the porch, and sped off for home.
I apologized to the lady, who was at first angry, but agreed that it was a bit humorous, when I pointed out that her bitch that was in heat was so cute that she was irresistible to Jiggs.
Welsh Terriers are not a common sight so the following story may be hard to believe, but it really is true.
I was parked in a field to await the start of a fireworks display. At dusk, I stepped out and opened the door for my five-year-old daughter …and our Welsh Terrier jumped out! The dog had a habit of sneaking into the car when he sensed a trip was about to take place. My kids were sometimes accessories to the ‘crime.’
I shouted, “Get back here!” in a tone that conveyed to the dog that he was in trouble. Just then, a couple who had exited their car at about the same time said, “Sparky, what are you doing here?”, and my dog, responding to their inviting tone, raced to them.
I said, “Hey that’s my dog!”
They both indignantly claimed that it was Sparky who must have hidden in their car. The dog seemed to back up their story by clinging to them to escape my ire.
After a number of increasingly heated exchanges, I turned to my daughter who was now visibly upset by the animosity, and I demanded, “What’s that dog’s name?”
To which she whined though tears, “I don’ know.”
I was beside myself with anger at the dog and at the people who were walking away with my dog, and at myself for frightening my daughter with my aggression.
A few minutes later, the ‘dognappers’ returned. Upon closer inspection, the couple realized that it was not their Welsh Terrier and apologized, with, “He looks exactly like Sparky.”
I, in turn apologized to my daughter.
CHAPTER 4: MOVIN’ TO THE COUNTRY
I was heading home after a late evening meeting with a new client of my advertising agency, when a wrong turn sent me along an unfamiliar highway through farm country. In the semi-darkness, a ‘For Sale’ sign caught my eye. I immediately stopped to inspect the property; and a short time later, I was enthusiastically telling my wife about the big three thousand square foot schoolhouse that I visualized as our new home.
The following day, a bemused real estate salesman followed us as we excitedly darted around the big empty building pacing off bedrooms, family rooms and dining rooms. All the while arguing about whether kitchen or study should face the best view. We bought it on the spot and soon after, moved in to begin the conversion …much to the disbelief of my clients, our friends and our families.
It was the 60s. The years of the ‘Hippies’, and young hitch-hikers were a common site along the highway that fronted our place. On a visit to our new acquisition, shortly after the purchase and before we moved in to start the conversion, I discovered several scruffy kids in the entrance to what they assumed was an old abandoned schoolhouse. They meant no harm; they had just entered to wait out a rain shower. They were polite and apologetic so I allowed them to stay a while and supplied some cool water.
This was my opportunity to convince my wife that we really needed a Doberman Pinscher. I added a few frightening “what if” scenarios to the story of the ‘home-invading’ Hippies, and claimed that I just wouldn’t feel right leaving her and the kids all alone ‘way out in the back country with no protection. It wasn’t a tough sell, we all loved dogs, so I soon came home with a six-month-old red Doberman Pinscher.
By late spring, Sir, as we called him, had matured and appointed himself manager of the two-acre property, and began to clear our land of critters. He was an excellent ‘mouser’, and was presented with plenty of prey as we were in the middle of dairy farm country. When he had a successful hunt, he would return to us and proudly present the carcass of a mouse or rat, and demand praise for a job well done.
When my friends and clients were out enjoying a Sunday drive, they often dropped in to see what we ‘insane’ people were doing to our schoolhouse now.
If the dog did not have the results of a recent hunting expedition, he would race off and frantically hunt the property until he found a varmint to present to the visitors and bask in the choruses of “Good dog” and “Great hunter”.
Eventually, prey became scarce. The surviving critter population had moved to safer terrain, well away from our land, so the hunt was often unsuccessful. One day the determined hunter returned with lips peeled back to gingerly grip in his teeth the only available prey; a recently deceased snake.
The next couple of times that a visitor arrived, the dog raced out and retrieved the snake’s carcass to display to our guest. Eventually the carcass became a bit high, so I locked in the dog, and took the snake to the forest, well away from our land to bury it.
That very weekend, several people came calling to inspect the progress of our schoolhouse renovation. The dog immediately hurried out retrieve his ex-snake. After a great deal of searching for the snake carcass, he gave up and set out in search of alternate prey.
Most of the afternoon had passed when the resolute hunter returned to demand accolades as he presented his ‘Kill’. Again with lips peeled back he held carefully in his teeth, a big fat earthworm!
As he matured, Sir began to display protectiveness of our yard. I was determined to ensure that my dog would do what everyone thinks their dog will do; bark to warn that someone is entering the property, stand by to be sure that the visitor is welcome, and if necessary give his life to protect the family. Regardless of the breed, the myths and the movies, it is a rare canine that comes by those talents naturally, so I set about to learn to train a personal protection dog.
I read everything I could find on the subject, visited and talked with well-known trainers, then discounted most of their systems and applied what I felt was the right method for my particular dog. We’re Canadian, so I didn’t want a dog that would inflict damage. Canadian law allows for no more force than is necessary to stop an assailant, so my dog should bite only if an aggressor physically attacked his owners.
I was satisfied that I had created a perfect personal protector when his first real life test occurred. It was one day when a heavy workload prompted me to be in my advertising agency office at five in the morning, and with me was my dog. We were alone. He was snoozing in my office while I worked in the art room which was located near the main entrance to the suite of offices. My full concentration was on meeting a deadline, so I did not notice the passage of time. Suddenly my dog emitted a series of threat barks as he flew past the art room door and on toward the entrance.
I rushed out to find my dog salivating and staring up into the eyes of a man who was pressing his back flat against the wall and holding a briefcase in front of him as a shield. There was another briefcase on the floor, obviously belonging to another visitor who must have escaped into the hall.
I immediately called off the dog and stumbled through an apology, stating that I had no idea that it was nine o’clock, and I wasn’t expecting anyone.
The dog had performed exactly as he should: Stop the intruder, hold him until I arrived to assess friend or foe, and stop immediately upon command and welcome the guest.
The visitors were extremely angry and accused me of deliberately setting up the scenario to threaten them.
“Sorry,” I repeated, “I wasn’t expecting you; I don’t even know who you are.”
My heart sank when he announced, “We’re tax inspectors, and we want to see your books!”
I wasn’t able to convince them that my receptionist had failed to tell me that they had called in advance to warn of their impending visit. I underwent the most thorough audit that they could perform. Fortunately, despite their best efforts, they found no irregularities, and grudgingly departed.
CHAPTER 11: OUT ON THE JOB
En route home very late one night, I was passing one of our sites, so I decided to stop off for a surprise visit and take a coffee to the officer on duty. We were hired to prevent trespass into a subway that was under construction. There had been some vandalism by gangs of kids, but liability for injury was the primary reason for our presence. The construction company was obligated to ensure that no one could enter and be hurt. Even if they had broken in, the construction company, as well as the city could be liable.
We stationed a man-dog team at each point of entry, and an additional team patrolled along the tunnel construction.
I went down the two levels of stairs to the under-construction subway station, and there before me was a peaceful scene. My officer was stretched out on a bench enjoying a quiet nap. Beside him was my dog, Missy, with leash correctly looped on the handler’s wrist, and who had also been enjoying a snooze. She sat up when alerted to my arrival and immediately recognized me.
I signaled for her to stay, and I set down the coffee. I picked up a thin flat stick. In a single motion, I swung my arm in a ‘come’ signal to the dog, and followed through to strike the stick against a wall, making the sound of a rifle shot that ricocheted off the barren concrete walls.
Missy flew toward me yanking the officer to the concrete floor and dragging him several feet as the ‘rifle shot’ pierced the air. It took him several minutes to recover sufficiently to comprehend my, “Go home, you’re fired!”
I retained the radio to call Dispatch and ask for a replacement officer, and Missy and I took over the post until a patrol supervisor relieved me.
Another officer was fortunate enough to receive a quiet assignment on a warm, pleasant mid-autumn day, to guard a huge transmission tower construction site in a field well away from civilization.
His canine partner was Roma, a pretty red Doberman Pinscher who happened to be a ‘talker’. She had a habit of begging for food, asking to go out, or trying to get your attention by staring into your eyes while gnashing her teeth and emitting little growly sounds. The more excited she became, the louder were her vocalizations, and the louder her teeth clacked.
The unwary officer spotted a fruit-laden tree, so he reached as high as he could on tiptoe, to retrieve a big red apple.
Suddenly, as he gripped the apple, Roma began to snap and threaten. The shocked guard froze in place. Each time he made the slightest move, the dog would bark, growl and gnash her teeth while sitting in front of him, ready to spring, and staring directly into the man’s eyes!
Unfortunately, the kennel staff had not explained the dog’s vocal idiosyncrasy to the officer when she handed over the dog.
Roma was saying “Yea! yea! Throw the ball,” but the officer translated her antics to, “Move and I’ll kill you!”, so he remained on tip toes, hand on the apple, quietly trying to calm the dog.
The officer claimed he was in this “Statue of Liberty” position for what seemed like hours, until finally, to the officer’s relief, the dog decided that he wasn’t going to throw the ball, so she lay down and went to sleep.
Another major assignment was funny, as in ‘Funny how things turn out’; definitely not funny as in humorous.
We were hired to protect a very wealthy family that was under threat of death. The mother had been assassinated. She had been dragged from her car to a ditch and shot three times in the head. The distraught family then began to receive death threats.
For several months, each member of the family, father, daughter and son, was accompanied by one of our top man-dog (and woman-dog) teams.
In addition, police maintained a vigil.
We covered them in their home, on outings, at church and we even accompanied them on their holidays at their opulent vacation property.
The assignment came to an abrupt and bizarre end when the father, a pillar of the church and community, was arrested (and ultimately convicted) of hiring a hit-man to kill his wife, and issuing the threats himself to cover the crime.
On some assignments, we were not the primary security force; rather our man-dog teams were tasked to augment the company’s permanent in-house security force. Sometimes, a rivalry between our force and the regular security force developed. Our people felt that their guys had it easy with ‘cushy’ inside patrols, while the man-dog teams patrolled out in the cold and the dark with only periodic warm-up rests in their cars.
On the other hand, their people felt that our guys were there to ‘show-up’ the permanent force by doing a job that they couldn’t do; and our officers had the freedom to come and go as they liked, plus …they had the protection of big tough dogs.
On one site, the local officers, intent upon proving that the ‘outsiders’ were inefficient, would watch out the windows until the man-dog teams warmed up in their cars between patrols in the wintery storm. Then they would sneak up in the darkness and try to startle our officer and dog, by rapping on the rear window, or better yet, catch him sleeping.
Fed up with the game, one man-dog team completed his patrol, climbed into his car, and soon fell asleep. The gleeful in-house officer tiptoed out in the dark, and up to the window of the sleeping team. He was about to shout and pound on the car when behind him, a second man-dog team quietly commanded his dog to bark. The shriek of the startled in-house officer signaled the man-dog team that had been pretending to sleep, to leap out of the car. The teams escorted the shaken officer back to his warm indoor post.
All of our patrol dogs had very specialized ‘turnover’ training. A dog could not be taken from their kennel by anyone but a person on our support staff. There was a special ritual that had to be followed to turn a dog over to a handler and from one handler to another. All officers were required to always have a dish and water for the dog, dog food if the dog was working a long shift, and all officers were trained in basic dog first aid, and how to properly hand off the dog.
On some sites, we would be assigned to provide a man-dog team twenty-four hours a day over the weekend. The dog would be having a ball, and would be more than happy to stay on the site for the entire weekend while officers took turns working eight-hour shifts. The special turnover ritual was to ensure that a stranger could not take a dog from their kennel or from a vehicle; and no bad guy could take a dog from our security guard, even if the guard was incapacitated.
This ritual was impressed over and over to every officer. One unfortunate guard discovered the reason for the rule.
We were assigned to protect a shipment of very expensive fur coats. They were on location for a ten-day series of fashion shows featuring the very best from top designers. Aside from the appeal to potential thieves, it was the dawn of the era of anti-fur activists who threw blood onto furs, so the coats were also a target for vandals.
The site was covered twenty-four hours by three handlers working eight-hour shifts. The dog remained on the site twenty-four hours. The officers were experienced handlers who took the dogs for a walk at changeover; and at mid-shift, a supervisor would arrive to take the dog out to relieve himself.
After a number of days of the routine, one of the officers ignored the rules, and left the dog in the room with the furs to go down the stairs to the front door to meet his replacement. He handed over the keys and went on home, confident that the dog was so accustomed to working with the same officers night after night, that the ‘fancy’ turnover was unnecessary.
I received the midnight call from the panicking guard when the dog would not let him into the room. “Why,” he asked, “won’t he obey me? I’ve been with him every day for week, now. He knows me.”
I had to drive into the city, all the way whispering to myself over and over Don’t touch the coats … Don’t chew the furs. The dog was ‘animal aggressive’ and he was alone with those furry things. As well, he had separation anxiety that prompted him to chew up rags, toys, papers, anything chewable …and a two thousand dollar fur coat was most assuredly chewable. He was definitely not a compound dog.
As I approached, I could hear the dog on the other side of the door warning the guard that he was not to enter. I opened the door and of course, he recognized me immediately and ceased the aggression. I then handed him over to the officer applying the correct turnover procedure, and he greeted the officer like a long-lost buddy.
I ran past the dog to check the coats. You can probably imagine my relief to discover that the dog had been so busy keeping out the ‘intruder’ (the officer), that he had no inclination to chew.
Need I mention that the offending officer who had left the dog, was immediately replaced?
Another strict rule was, “Never ever leave your car running with a dog alone in the car.”
A security officer was performing ‘spot-checks’. She was patrolling an assigned route, and making irregularly timed walk-throughs of various clients’ properties.
At a public storage location, she drove into the very large parking area and hopped out to check the gate to the storage unit section. She would be gone only a few seconds, so she ignored the rule, shifted to ‘park’ and left her car idling.
As soon as the car door closed, the dog jumped into the front seat, and while straining to see where his handler had gone, struck the gear shift lever on the steering shaft and dropped it all the way down into ‘Low’ gear! Apparently his other paw struck the spoke of the steering wheel and cramped it hard right.
This was before the time that all vehicles were designed with park-lock so that you couldn’t put it in gear unless you had your foot on the brake pedal, so the car took off in slow circles. Fortunately, it was on a very large empty parking lot and it was the middle of the night, so as long as the dog didn’t steer elsewhere, there was no imminent danger. For what seemed forever, the car merrily circled the lot, with the security guard desperately trying to catch up.
Eventually, to add to our embarrassment, a police cruiser happened by, and one of the officers (who was obviously a sprinter), joined the chase and managed to catch up, reach in and switch off the runaway car. The security officer was suspended, the police officer had another story about a dumb security guard to share with his buddies, and the canine carjacker was issued a warning!