Scott Rall: Living in the land of giants

Scott Rall Daily Globe outdoors columnist I can remember a cartoon but not the names of the characters in it. It was a really small dog with lots of energy trying to get a really big but tired dog convinced that they should go chase cats. The lit...

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SUBMITTED PHOTO Kristine Rall is pictured with her rat terrier, Skeeter.

Scott Rall
Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

I can remember a cartoon but not the names of the characters in it. It was a really small dog with lots of energy trying to get a really big but tired dog convinced that they should go chase cats. The little dog needed the big dog companion to get the job done. The big dog was never interested in helping out.
At my house this scenario plays out every day. In addition to the three musketeers, my three black labs named Axle, Tracer and the newbie named Sarge, share a house with a little dog named Skeeter. He is a rat terrier that has absolutely no idea he is a little dog.
When we moved into the house we occupy on Lexington Avenue in Worthington 10 years ago, my wife said she needed a dog. I explained that I thought three dogs were enough, but she said she needed some company when I was gone hunting. I offered her up yet another Labrador, but she was sure that I would never leave it home when I went hunting and that it needed to be a dog that did not hunt.
I was OK with that idea, and we began the discussion as to what breed to get. I always thought that Australian shepherds or border collies were pretty cool. They chased a ball and we could use this form of exercise to keep them fit. Both of these breeds got shot down like an enemy fighter in World War II. I remembered the old saying, “If momma is happy then everyone is happy” and very quickly defaulted to a foo foo dog breed. My only condition was that it had to be a breed that did not need a haircut every few months
A foo foo dog definition, in my book, is any dog that when sitting in your lap is doing everything useful that it can do. They do no work like finding birds or bringing them back when you shot one. They are a companionship dog, period. There are millions of foo foo dogs that perform their duties with distinction. They will sit in a lap for years on end and all they ask for in return is food and water and unlimited petting.
Sweetie started looking in the paper for a foo foo, dog and when properly motivated this job can be done is a very short time. Three days after I caved on the notion of a foo foo dog we had one. He is a rat terrier and when we got him he was already six months old. He had been living in a barn with several other dogs and my wife brought him home, and the first word out of her mouth were “I had to save him!”
It appeared that he had little to no contact with humans for the first six months of his life. He was scared of his own shadow. His is now 9 years old and still carries around a few behavioral reminders that resulted from his poor socialization as a puppy.
Today Skeeter, for the most part, is the ruler of the roost. He has no idea he is a little dog. When I sit in the chair he will jump up on the back of a larger dog standing near me and use them as a rest. We have many chew bones in the house and the labs will all walk by and steal a bone from a dog chewing on it. This happens over and over in the course of a day.
Labs will steal from Labs but nobody steals a bone from Skeeter. He will let out a low volume growl and every Lab figures it’s easier to get one from another black lab than chance an encounter with Skeeter. He spends 95 percent of his time in the chair snuggled up with Sweetie. As I have stated before, this is the main duty of a foo foo dog.
Skeeter is smart and is trained to heel, sit and come just like my other dogs. He was harder to train but in the end I used the same methods and got the same results. I purchased a small foo foo dog training collar and in short order Skeeter was up to the household standards.
Rat terriers were very common in the 1930 as vermin killers. They traveled centuries ago to kill the rats on ocean-going sailing ships. They have had a long and rich history as a farm dog and hunting companion. They are a member of the family of dogs called feists. They have a life expectancy of 18-23 years. You won’t have too many of this dog in one human lifetime. Labs live about 12-13 years.
Skeeter has impressed me in many ways, even if I am not a big foo foo dog kind of guy. He stands about 16 inches tall but when he is out running around with my labs he can run as fast as them and keep up with them all day. He has never hunted, but he still has some hunting instincts. His favorite thing to chase is song birds. He looks and looks and then is off to the races.
He doesn’t do so good in the all grass, but when you do get him out there he prances like a deer. All you see is him at the top of the jump; he then disappears and then 10 feet further along you will see him again. Now you see him and now you don’t.
Skeeter had a close call when he went for his first ride on my Polaris Ranger. He was sitting in my lap and a pheasant flew across the road. He almost jumped out of my lap, and if I had not held on tight I would have run him over with the machine. He wanted that bird and he has never hunted before. It is amazing how much of that hunting instinct is passed on even if it has been many generations of prior breeding that have never hunted.
We now have a windshield on the machine and Skeeter is attached to a short lead every time to make sure he stays put. I am sure that if the opportunity ever presented itself again he would act the same way. Skeeter will chase and make a few retrieves but loses interest after a short time.
Rat terriers and their close cousins the Jack Russell Terriers tend to be barkers. Skeeter only barks at the neighbor dog. He never barks at any other dog, just the neighbor dog. I can’t figure that out. Many training sessions has not cured him of this one issue. He is sure mean and lean. His legs are about as big around as a quarter. He is all muscle and quite a specimen.
Small dogs are easy keepers, and Skeeter fits the description. If he has a drawback it is how attached he is to Sweetie. If she leaves him with a sitter he will sometimes act badly and relieve himself in the house. He never has an accident when we are home. He is telling us to always take him along.
I had a friend tell me years ago that there is no such thing as a perfect dog. They all have one little thing that you wish you could fix. When it comes to Skeeter, he is not perfect as well. But when it comes to a foo foo dog, he does what he needs to do. That is sitting is Sweetie’s lap and keeping her company.
If you are looking for a companion dog I would certainly consider a terrier breed. My friend Brent Rossow breeds Jack Russells and I can get you his contact information if you’re interested.
Skeeter would be better if he only hunted pheasants, but that is not why we got him. He is doing a great job as a foo foo dog living in the land of giants.

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