Maddie and Hugger playing.
I don’t remember how Maddie and Hugger first met. Probably on a walk since Hugger was a young Black Lab who lived a few houses up from us.
Our front door has a side window, and one day I noticed Hugger sitting on the porch looking expectantly at the door. Maddie saw I was looking at something, and then she saw Hugger too. She started to wag, I let her out, and they played in our front yard for the next half hour.
Have you ever seen young dogs play? It’s all teeth and neck and submissive and dominant; one on its back, one on its feet. And in the case of Hugger and Maddie, taking turns. When she finally came in her neck was soaked, and she was exhausted. And for about the next year, Hugger would occasionally appear at our front door, asking if Maddie could come out to play.
“You have a very bold dog.” These words were spoken by our newly hired dog trainer about 20 seconds after meeting Madison for her first session. We later realized this was trainer-speak for “you’re going to need a lot more training than this 10 week course.” Bold isn’t so bad, is it? Little did we know, the trainer summed up the worst and the very, very best of Madison in that simple first impression.
Puppy school was 10 Saturdays in a pretty Missoula park during Maddie’s first fall. Even though it was a “beginner” class, many of her classmates had either received some personal training or were already well-trained and just in the class for socialization. We were by the far the most raw rookies – puppy and owners both.
You’d think that with 10 weeks of training our dog would be at our beck and call, but the bar was actually much lower. All she had to do to pass her final exam was heel, sit, stay and come. Heel, impossible. Maddie tugged on her leash her whole life. Sit, yes! Stay, seconds, quivering harmonically in her younger years, but almost perfectly mid-life. Come, easy. Any of these in the presence of the rest of the puppy class that first fall – not a chance. We were prepared for a sit-down with our instructor at the end of our class, but to our surprise, she let us off the hook and praised our progress.
Nobody who knew her would say Madison was well-trained, but for the things that mattered to us, she was great. She was great in the car. She was great on the trail. She was great in our home. Puppy school, not so much.
We moved to Missoula on New Year’s Eve, 1998. It was our first home and our first opportunity to have a dog. The house needed some work including a new kitchen. Since everything in the kitchen was coming out anyway, we decided we could get a puppy and keep her there during her formative months – so what if she chewed up the cabinets. Which, turns out, she did.
Julie grew up with Black Labs, and constantly talked about one day having a Black Lab of her own. Black. Always Black. One word: blacklab. I thought there was no other kind.
So, Spring of 1999, we went to visit some puppies. The litter was a mix of mostly black and a few yellow pups, and they were rolling around in the breeder’s front yard when we arrived. Julie immediately threw herself into the pile of puppies and on her way to the party lost her shoe. After a few minutes, a little pudgy yellow – yes, yellow – pup left the group, walked over to Julie’s shoe, and crawled into it. And that was that. She picked us.
We had talked a lot about what kind of dog we wanted. Disposition was important. We wanted a calm dog, so we asked if we could meet the parents. The breeder said yes we could meet Mom, but we would have to come back in a few days. We said we wanted the pudgy yellow one, but contingent on our parental conference. A few days later we returned, and first things first, were introduced to Mom, the most hyper Lab I have ever met.
Julie and I both looked at each other with alarm, but there was no way we were going to change our minds about our pup. On the way home she was a squirmy bundle of energy, and then she collapsed and suddenly fell asleep in Julie’s lap, and that’s the moment she became ours.