Mackie (MacWilliams)- Leisor Human Nature
This Whippet Boy helped my dad and me through the final stages of my dad’s life.
My dad, had long lost his power of speech via a series of strokes, but not his love of whippets. I was feeling pretty dismal and knew it was time to bring a new whippet into my life.
My internet search began on the Whippet Club website and led me to Debra, who was offering a three month old “out there” whippet puppy for sale to a good and carefully selected home.
On our very first day together Mackie accompanied me into the nursing home. He was an immediate hit with the residents and staff alike and soon made himself comfortable on my dad’s bed. Seeing my dad’s face light up for the first time in months was wonderful. He began to stroke him. No words were necessary and unlike humans, Mack didn’t find the interaction with an elderly man who was unable to speak uncomfortable. Mack bridged the communication gap between even my dad and I!
Mack continued to accompany me to the nursing home on a daily basis. Indeed, on the rare occasion I left Mack at home my dad would be very grumpy and sign to indicate he enjoyed it when the pup accompanied me. Mack was a great comfort and a little slice of home in a very bleak and by then, institutional end of life existence. The bond between Mack and my dad may have been brief, but it was very deep. My dad loved his previous whippet Max. He also loved Mack.
Mack had already been named by Debra and I saw no reason to change it, despite it being eerily close to the name of his whippet predecessor.
Following my dad’s death Mack was a great comfort to me. He was a very bright boy and quickly learned new activities such as fetch and commands such as “over”for some agility work at the local park.
Mack and I went through puppy school at our local vets and was delivering perfect “sit, drop and stays” soon after he came into my life. We progressed on to puppy classes at the local Obedience Club, but rather than finding them a help, the hour long sessions, with a pup who already knew the commands and got restless was testing Mack and I to say the least. It was a bit like when a child can rad before it gets to school. They get bored quickly and act accordingly. The club was not very social, in either animal or people terms and to add to my dismay, I was reprimanded for bringing dry instead of wet treats on my first day and also for not running fast enough. Due to a knee injury I cannot sustain running and my own legs are pretty short. I was always led to believe the dog kept pace with you, not the other way around.
Then the terrible teens hit, not long after my dad died. Mackie became somewhat defiant and unreliable. Maybe it was because I was emotionally all over the place, as grief ran its course and estate matters were settled, or maybe, simply because Mack just was not a food oriented dog, but he was not responding to food rewards. This made rewarding good behaviour pretty difficult. Ignoring bad behaviour was a strategy that was not working for us. Mack’s behaviour was getting worse. Sometimes it could even be embarrassing.
We went through a testing few months as we tried various training options together. Eventually I sought one to one help from Caroline owner of Beta Dogs training and miracle worker. Caroline undertook her trainer certification with Alpha Dogs in Melbourne and had to work with over 200 dogs to get her certification. Many of these had been rescue dogs or were on the dangerous dog listing and would face being euthanized if their behaviour did not improve. Compared to some of these dogs Mack was a real softie. The two of us picked things up pretty quickly.
Caroline and her two lovely role models and distractor dogs worked with Mack and I for weekly sessions of an hour and a half over six weeks. By the end of that time, Mack could hold a drop/stay for 30 minutes. He was not bouncing around on the end of his lead. He was again the dog I wanted to spend the rest of our lives together with, a pleasure to take out in public, or have around the house.
The training methods Caroline shared with Mack and I did not involve food rewards, but still relied on positive reinforcement and role modelling with her own cattle dog. However, there were consequences for unwanted or defiant behaviour. A year on and Mack is embracing his gentlemen role ever more successfully and calmly on a daily basis.
I could have easily given up and rehomed him at times, but I had made a commitment to my dog and was also willing to seek help when both of us needed it. These days we have as near perfect a relationship as any can be. Mack does seem to share my fetish for shoes and funky glasses and that does create occasional conflict. He has also been warned that he is not allowed alcohol before he turns fifteen!
On a more serious note, it does worry me that whippets suddenly seem to be a fashion item in the dog world. They are a wonderful breed, but I personally know two whippet owners who have rehomed their dogs, because they found them too jumpy and naughty.
One of these women initially chose a whippet because she thought one would make a great fashion accessory when she went to her local café for coffee on weekends. The other, an experienced dog owner I have way more sympathy for, as her whippet was spending most of its young life on a leash. The pup had way too much energy for her young, but introverted daughter. She was caught between these two young lives. Thankfully, both women were responsible enough to rehome their pets with experienced whippet owners, who had older children.
Whippets are often not very food reward oriented dogs, which can make their training more of a challenge, but they respond so well to training. Food reward training that is the “flavour of the month” in dog obedience circles just wasn’t cutting it for Mack and I, so I l tried and learned a different and equally humane reward based method. That so many whippets serve as Delta Dogs, or work with children in schools and kindergartens says so much about the gentle calmness and reliability of whippets, so too that they often excel at obedience and agility training. Mack is an “out there, dominant and very bright whippet”. He has been the hardest dog of any I have ever trained and the only one that has ever gone through a defiant stage. But we did come through it. There has never been a vicious bone in any whippet’s body that I have known. Instead it is their energy, desire to explore, socialise and play with other dogs and ability to question things that other dogs would not, that get them into trouble.
As a responsible and accredited whippet breeder, Debra put me through a thorough grilling and investigation as to my whippet worthiness and credentials before she decided I would be the perfect whippet mother to Mack, as would be expected of all reputable whippet breeders. It is the backyard breeders and possibly even some illegal puppy farmers, that are an enemy to the good name of the breed.
Being an exceptionally handsome example of a whippet, with impeccable bloodlines, I was spotted and approached by a backyard breeder who was seeking Mack as sire to his puppies. I informed this person that as Mack had an undescended testicle he would be being desexed as soon as he muscled up and that to breed from him would be unthinkable, according to the Whippet Club of Victoria. The fact he had an undescended testicle was how he ended up being my pet and not involved in showing and breeding in the first place, despite being “breeder’s choice of the litter”. Mack had even done his show training and socialisation ready for just such a life. But for that undescended testicle Mack would likely have been a champion. This man was not too worried about such rules or protocols. He told me he had five whippets at his home outside Ballarat and he clearly saw whippet breeding as an extension of his love of the breed.
Mack will never be a dad. He is so very unlike Max, our first whippet in so many ways. Max was a complacent dog. His manners were impeccable from the day he entered our home. However, both boys are equally devoted, loving and wonderful companions. It just took Mack a little longer to settle into his place in the pecking order of my world. He is at my side more often than not and these days is loved by most of my visitors and guests, along with the neighbourhood kids and elderly people we meet on our regular walks. He waits patiently and calmly while I photograph other dogs for my ‘Dogs About Town’ post on my petsandplants blog. He calmly sits beside me whilst I enjoy coffees and meals from Lygon Street to the shores of Lake Wendouree, wearing the handmade crystal adorned lime green whippet collar I bought as a gift for him from London. He equally loves his hard wearing leather collar he wears on less special occasions, along with his several whippet fleecies and waterproof coats. All in all Mack is the angel whippet I always envisaged he would be. It just took a bit of getting there.