Adventures of a Backyard Dog

Last weekend, our dog joined us on a huge adventure. It was his very first holiday and his first sleep over.

Bilbo is a rather large and often somnolent Border Collie.  What I’d describe as a “backyard dog”. With my mobility issues, walks are infrequent but he often goes out for local trips in the car. So you see, he leads a fairly quiet, simple life and his world is about the size of a large pocket handkerchief.

That was until last weekend.

View of Careel Bay and local racing pigeons.

Palm Beach looking towards Careel Bay and some local racing pigeons.

Bilbo hasn’t been away from home overnight before. Whenever we go away, he usually stays home and is looked after by the beautiful Jess. However, last weekend we were only going across the water to Palm Beach (albeit via a circuitous route through Sydney) so we decided to take him along. I was really looking forward to taking him with us and thought he’d love exploring new worlds, expanding his horizons.

Bilbo is 6 years old. That’s middle-aged in dog years, even it’s still very young in human years (42 being  the new 21!!) That makes him not quite an old dog but certainly no pup. That being the case, I wondered how he would respond to his big adventure. Would he love his new found freedom and new horizons or would he be thrilled to get back to the familiar comforts of home?

We were soon to find out.

The fun all began when Bilbo saw me packing the suitcases. I didn’t need a degree in dog psychology to see that he was starting to panic. As far as he was concerned, the suitcases meant we were about to disappear and he’d be home alone- albeit with the gorgeous Jess who spoils him rotten. It was bad news. The end of the world!

So while I’m loading the car, he decided to be proactive and loaded himself. I tried to explain to him that he was actually coming with us this time and took him back inside. No use. He was straight back out to the car again with the next load. I was reminded of a song by Mental As Anything If You Leave Me. It has the great line: if you leave me, can I come too?

That’s always appealed to me too!

Anyway, soon the dog is happy. He’s in the car with the rest of us and all the bags. Don’t know what thoughts were going through his mind. He was probably just relieved that he wasn’t being left behind. Bilbo had the luxury of sitting up the front. We had all our bedding in the back with the kids and as much as I love my dog, I didn’t want our bedding contaminated by any dog germs. Dooners and dog smells definitely don’t mix!

Bilbo’s fun was only beginning. You see, Bilbo has only ever been in the car at about 50-60KPH and he’s only ever been a ten minute drive away from home. The trip to Palm Beach started out with a good hour’s drive to Sydney down the freeway at 110KPH. As much as you might think that a dog would enjoy all that speed, we’re talking about a backyard dog here. This was double our local speed limit and he looked decidedly uncomfortable. He wasn’t quite clinging to his seat by his claws but he definitely looked like this drive was taking him well beyond his comfort zone. He was leaning over towards me for reassurance. The trusty car had morphed into something like a rocket and it was going way too fast!! Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!

We arrived at my parents’ place and this was his first taste of dogs not being allowed inside the house. Glaring through the back door, Bilbo was looking mortally wounded. Stabbed in the heart. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed inside along with the rest of us.  After all, he still hasn’t worked out that he’s a dog yet. He still firmly believes that he’s human…our third child…the baby of the family!

We picked up Geoff and continued up to Palm Beach. Bilbo was really confused by this point. He was still sitting in the front but was now beside Geoff. I was now in the back with the kids. Geoff always puts Bilbo in the back and the dog seemed quite confused. Why was Mum sitting in the back and he was sitting in the front?

Arrival at Palm Beach meant Bilbo “the inside dog” was now an “outside dog”. This was definitely a significant change of status…a serious retrograde step. Nobody had warned him about that when he’d signed up for this holiday. Not that he’d actually signed up for anything. He’d just jumped in the car. Now, he had no idea where he was or how he’d got there but his food bowl and his water bowl had somehow made the journey with him. It was almost business as usual but not quite.

A dog doesn’t need to understand every twist and turn in life and is just supposed to accept what is. Somebody forgot to tell Bilbo. Bilbo persistently tried to come inside. He just wanted to be with us…especially in such a foreign environment.

Where was his bed?

I think he found a sheltered spot under the balcony.

Father & Son take on the high seas.

Father & Son take on the high seas.

First thing Saturday, Mister and Geoff took the kayak out for a paddle at high tide.

Mad dog

Crazed dog

Come back!!!!!

Come back!!!!!

That’s when things really started heating up for Bilbo. He’s a very protective dog and he really doesn’t like us getting in the water and feels compelled to save us. The only trouble is that he won’t get in the water himself. He might get his paws wet but that’s about it. He’s certainly not a swimmer. So you can just imagine what Bilbo was like when Mister and Geoff took off on the kayak. He was beside himself with worry whimpering and running all over the place. He’d run down the slipway and get to the very end and just when his paws were about to get wet, he’d stop. He really wanted to rescue them and bring them back but he just couldn’t bring himself to jump in. I could sense the stress in his body. Every single nerve and muscle was switched onto high alert. He was ready to pounce and yet he couldn’t. Miss and I tried to reassure the crazy mutt. To be honest, Miss wasn’t faring much better. She didn’t want to go out in the kayak and also has a bit of a fear of the sea.

Dog on board

Dog on board

Well, you wouldn’t believe it because after Mister got off the Kayak, somehow the dog, despite all his phobias and fears, climbed onto the kayak. Before we knew it, Geoff was paddling out with Bilbo on board. It was hilarious to watch at first, especially after writing my poem The Surfer’s Dog. In my wildest dreams, I’d never expected Bilbo to climb on board a kayak, especially after being such a nervous wreck!!

Perhaps, he’d wanted to go out there all along. He wasn’t afraid. Perhaps, he was crying out: “Wait for me! My turn!”

Trying not to rock the boat.

Trying not to rock the boat.

Somehow, I don’t think so. Perhaps, he just had a momentary lapse when he climbed onboard.  He was happy to climb on but once he realised he was no longer on terra firma and the thing started to rock a little, he wanted out. The poor dog! Instead of trying to jump out, he actually lay down and dug his claws into Geoff. When it came to getting off, his fear seriously intensified. I have never seen him so frightened. He dug his claws in and clung to the kayak like glue and wouldn’t budge. He was visibly shaking like a leaf. It was pretty intense but short lived. It became very evident that Bilbo had bitten off more than he bargained for with that adventure. He was very pleased to be back on dry land.

That said, he did show a bit of interest in having another ride in the kayak on Sunday and Geoff thinks he might even have another go.

After all that excitement, you would think that Bilbo would have had enough adventure for one day. That he had well and truly exceeded his quota of character-building adventures for a life time. However, Bilbo had other plans.

We all decided to go out in the kayaks. Mister was paddling in a single kayak and Geoff and I were paddling in the “banana boat” bathtub kayak and we had Miss in the front.

Bilbo had been a bit unsettled to say the least with us in the kayaks and so we decided to secure him safely in the backyard. We didn’t think anything of it. Bilbo is a pretty mild-mannered dog and he’s never tried to escape before. The kids will be playing out the front and the front door will be wide open but Bilbo just lies there with his claws curling over the doorstep staying put. He’s busting to join in but he doesn’t. He’s a very good dog! We can trust him and he’s usually much better behaved than the kids!

Well, we hadn’t factored in the panic. The sheer terror Bilbo felt when he saw all four of us take off.  He had to come and save us. The only trouble was, at least as far as he was concerned, that he needed to get in the water and he still couldn’t muster up the courage. He was stuck on the shore feeling useless and very overwhelmed.

We had paddled past the mangroves over to the Careel  Bay Marina and were heading back when we spotted a Border Collie running haphazardly on the shore about 10 houses away from home. We didn’t realise that it was Bilbo straight away because he was at home and as I said, he’s never escaped before. He’s a really good dog. But once he saw that we’d seen him, there was a very definite look of recognition. It was him, after all! Bilbo had escaped.

When we arrived home, we discovered that Bilbo had chewed solidly on the wooden gate and had even pulled off four planks. There were nails sticking out and all sorts. He’d all but demolished Dad’s gate. He’d gone ballistic!!

This is how all big adventures come to a screaming halt. When you go too far, you get brought back into line.

Bilbo was in time out.

Geoff was off to the hardware store.

Neither was happy.

Bilbo wasn't invited sailing!

Bilbo wasn’t invited sailing!

Fortunately, it was a long weekend and Bilbo had a chance to redeem himself.

I don’t know how Bilbo felt about his big weekend away. It’s not always easy when all your Christmases come at once and it was a huge change for a backyard dog to suddenly explore the world and even the high seas. He had fun but I kind of suspect there was also a sense of there’s “no place like home”. Driving home, he looked particularly comfortable curled up in the back seat in between the kids. The three of them were sound asleep. Bilbo also slept in the next morning and I can’t help wondering how much nervous energy he’d expended on our weekend away. He was pooped!

Yet, something tells me that when the suitcases come out next time, Bilbo will be back in the car ready to join us on our next big adventure.

See! You really can teach an old dog new tricks, after all!

The sun sets on a perfect weekend.

The sun sets on a perfect weekend.

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