SOPHIE'S WORLD: Dig to the Pyrenees

By Gene Titus ©1993

I'm not sure how to start this Sophie's World. How can I convey to you the significance of what I'm about to tell you? How can I prepare you for the change this issue is going to make in all our lives? I guess I should just come right out with it. But you better sit down first! I've discovered what could be the biggest breakthrough in Great Pyrenees research this century.

It all started late one rainy night. Sophie let me know she needed to go out into the back yard. I thought, as any Pyr-trained house owner would, that Sophie needed to go answer the call of the wild. Little did I know. I opened the back door and Sophie lumbered out with practiced determination. She knew what she was doing. I suspected she had done it many times before.

Sophie noticed I was watching her. She knew what I expected her to do. Being the ever-so-clever Pyr, she meandered far enough out into the back yard that I couldn't really make out what she was doing through the rain It looked like she "did her thing," though I suspect it was all a show to throw me off the track. Then she trotted off to find the mud that would best meet her specific need. Of course she knew I would not chase her out in the rain. She wasn't worried I would discover what she was up to. She has me trained, as are you. We all believe that if you chase a Pyr, it will run. Our Pyrs have us conditioned to believe in this chase/run mythos for a reason. Wake up people! They're trying to hide something.

I watched Sophie as she searched for the perfect mud puddle. Not just any mud will do you see. It has to be the right color and consistency. When Sophie found just the right puddle, she started to dig. Mud went everywhere. Sophie covered herself as best she could. She even sat down in the stuff to make sure her tail was mud soaked. She had gone from a white, clean, easy to recognize Great Pyrenees to something any one of us would have avoided if seen on the streets or public transportation. Are you starting to get the picture yet? Well then, take the following into consideration.

We all think Great Pyrenees like to roam, right? They like to run and explore and sniff. So we're told to put up fences to keep them safe. It's been drilled into us to keep our Pyrs behind walls. "Never let you Great Pyrenees off the leash," our breeder told us. Well, I think our motives are honest. But I suspect we're missing the reason why our Pyrs want to roam.

It's in their genes we're told. Sheep guarding dogs have to cover many miles each day to guard the sheep. Now wait a minute. Have you ever seen a flock of sheep? Have you ever driven down the road and looked over at a bunch of sheep? What were they doing? Were they all running back and forth across the pasture? Where they all following well worn trails around the fence line looking for a way out? Did they look like they wanted to be anywhere other than where they were? NO! They were just standing there! They were all just looking at each other and going "bahahaha." They didn't look all that hard to guard. A lawn chair and a couple of beers should do it. People, we've been duped! Our Pyrs have us trained to believe that they like to roam because of sheep! I'm here to tell you it's not true!

So, we have dogs that like to cover themselves in mud and they like to explore and roam. Are you starting to suspect ulterior motives yet? You will after this.

Let's get back to this digging thing again. Why do our Pyrs dig? So they can lay down in a nice hole and get cool you might say. But even Pyrs in cool climates have been known to dig a four-man-fox-hole now and then. I'll bet you people up north have seen your Pyrs dig in the snow? Am I right? So why do they dig? There has to be some other reason for their habitual digging. I realized a more scientific approach might shed some light on this digging phenomenon. So I started by examining the holes in my backyard.

At first glance, they appeared to just be randomly placed holes in the ground. Each of differing size and shape. I tried to make sense of the placement of the holes. Maybe they were a doggie representation of some starry constellation Sophie had noticed while drifting off to sleep in her favorite position, feet side up... Strike one! Maybe they spelled out Sophie's favorite brand of dog food? ... Strike two! Maybe they were dug to trap unsuspecting tennis balls that might happen by?... Strike three! I was about to give up when a radical idea popped into my head.

I ran inside and rummaged through my old trig and calculus books from college to prove to myself that it was possible. I then went back and examined each hole individually. I measured their depth. I gauged their width. I plotted them on graph paper. I integrated their parts. Then I found it! The one piece of evidence that could not be ignored. The one fact that brought all my suspicions together. As I write this I still find it hard to believe. You had better brace yourselves.

All the holes Sophie dug, every one of them, led to the same place. If Sophie ever completes one of the holes in my backyard, she would end up right smack dab in the middle of the Great Pyrenees Mountains! Sophie's trying to go home!

It all makes sense now. The effort to find the mud that most resembles, I believe, the mud in the Great Pyrenees Mountains. Sophie covered herself in it to disguise her white coat so no one will notice an almost show quality Great Pyrenees running around without an owner. It would also allow her to just blend in with the scenery when she got there. And the roaming, HA! She doesn't want to guard any sheep! She wants to go out looking for an already completed hole so she won't have to dig one all by herself.

And this explains other characteristics about our dogs that we just thought were cute. Pawing for instance. Sophie gives me a paw and I pet her. Then she keeps pawing at my arm, even though I'm already petting her. I look into her eyes and she seems to be trying to tell me something. I think She's trying to say, "Can we go home now?" It's what kids do in the mall. They put their hand on their parents arm and say, "Can we go home now?" Sophie wants me to take her to the Great Pyrenees Mountains. Try it yourself. Look at your Pyr when it's pawing you and see if I'm right!

How about running in their sleep? They're not running in your back yard in those dreams. They're running up and down snow-capped mountains and barking in French. And I'll bet, like Sophie, your Pyr wakes up in the morning, has a super body stretch, looks around for a moment and then shakes themselves all over. They're trying to clear their heads. They think they're back in the Pyrenees Mountains of their dreams. It takes a good shake to clear out the snow flakes before they realize where they really are.

Our dogs want to go home. The home of their ancestors. The home for which they were named. I wonder if all our Pyrs don't feel a pang of desire every time that guy at Westminster, you know, the one with the really low voice, calls out the words "The Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog." It's in their genes. Every self-respecting Great Pyrenees, from puppyhood to old age all share the same urge. To go home.

And now that we know, can we ever look into our puppies' eyes the same way again? Can we let our Pyrs suffer like this? Can we just sit back and watch them live a life of unfulfilled dreams? There's only one answer to that question and we all know what it is. NO! We've got to do something! We've got to act and act now!

Since I've had a little lead time on this one, I went ahead and called a travel agent. I thought if we all go together we can save on air fare and dog food. I told them what we needed. A charter flight to Paris. Of course the puppies get first crack at the window seats. They did ask if we could keep the nose prints on the glass to a minimum. And they'll supply milkbones as an alternative to peanuts.

I can see it now, row after row of smiling white Pyrs with headphones on watching "Homeward Bound" as we soar across the Atlantic. In Paris we'll catch a south-bound train. I found out Pyrs under 12 are half price on Eurail. We lucked out on that one!

Oh to see the wonder in the eyes of the people that watch our train pass. Each window displaying a jubilant, tail-wagging Pyr. As we travel through southern France, one of our puppies will catch the first scent of the mountain air. A bark will follow. Then the others will join in as they sniff the strangely familiar air. They'll all bark in chorus when the first mountain comes into sight. Pyrs will be running up and down the isle trying to find the window with the best view.

As we enter the foothills of the Pyrenees, our puppies become suddenly quiet. Every white head looking with reverence at the mountains ahead. No more pawing. No more digging. Just quiet anticipation as we near the end of our journey. As the train pulls into the station, the puppies seem to break out of their trances all at once. If you think your Pyr looks excited when it's time for a walk, wait until you see them getting ready to step off the train and into their mountains. Pyrs are bouncing up and down and left and right. No more need for leads, there's nowhere to run to. As the conductor opens the door, he jumps out of the way as a white tidal wave of paws and fur sweeps past him. As we get off the train, we each spot our own puppy happily running around and barking and playing with the others. Never have they looked so at home and carefree.

Some will stay a week, others maybe two. The news will report that local sheep never felt so safe. On the return trip, our puppies will sleep most of the way. Waking only to change trains or flights. And when we get home, the pawing will be for petting only. The gardens will be safe for a while. Mud will have lost its attraction. Life will slowly return to normal. The seasons will change and the pilgrimage to the Pyrenees will slip to the back of our minds. Then one morning, while you're drinking your coffee, you'll glance out in the back yard. And there will be your Pyr, happily digging.

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