the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Rounding out her resume

A few weeks ago the owners of Coco’s parents asked if we’d like to join them for a two-hour session of herding lessons up in Huntsville, Utah, about an hour north of here. We’d been thinking of looking into something like this for Coco, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out and see if this was something all of us could handle. All of us, that is, except Chuck because we left him home. For a couple of reasons. One, he’s not a herding breed and would be as lost among those sheep as I would have been at sixteen inside a sex shop, all, um, what is that long stick there with two balls on either side? Is that some sort of fancy back-scratcher? Two, he’s terribly unpredictable when confronted with animals not of his own species and has been known to suddenly discover his anal glands when in the presence of horses or cows.

So one gorgeous Sunday morning we packed up a lunch, hooked both Leta and Coco into the backseat and headed north. But not before stuffing a bag full of books for Leta to read and flip through. Because when we told her we were going to see sheep she asked, “Will those sheep have books I can read?” Granted, that’s the first question she asks when we get in the car to go anywhere. Do they have books there? Can I read their books? Which I will admit is sort of cute in the sense that it’s obvious we’re raising a nerd, but it’s sometimes frustrating. Because even though there are books at the grocery store, Leta, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes over there in that aisle, not when the only reason I made this trip was to pick up a gallon of milk and a package of earplugs. Because today Apple is announcing new products and Daddy is going to be doing A LOT OF TALKING.

Hunstville is a quaint, scenic town just up from Ogden Canyon, and when we pulled up to the ranch for lessons we immediately met Coco’s parents, Lucy and Willie. I’ve said this before, but it was such a strange experience to meet a dog related to my dog, let alone her parents, because we have no idea where or under what sort of circumstances Chuck was born. And because we haven’t had any of his DNA checked out we have no idea what sort of breeds could be swirling around in there, and for all we know a cat got freaky with a deer and out popped a creature who can balance a beer bottle on his head.

And it occurred to me that meeting Coco’s mother was probably a lot like what Jon experienced the first time he met my mother and was all, oh. Now I get it. The Crazy is hereditary.

Since all of the dogs in attendance were beginners the trainer talked to us all about what would happen, how one of us would accompany her and the dog into a pen about 1/10 of an acre big, and then when inside she’d show us techniques as to how to encourage the dog to chase the sheep. At this point Leta was sitting on a grassy spot and reading books about twenty feet from the group of us, and Coco was interested in nothing but her whereabouts. WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE? Coco, Leta is fine. She’s right there reading books. Chill out. BUT SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! Nothing is going to happen, calm down. DOES. NOT. COMPUTE. MUST. CRY. WILDLY. Is that not totally heartbreaking, though? That Coco is so interested in the well-being of someone who, if gifted with only a slightly more advanced vocabulary, would tell her to fucking suck it.

I volunteered to go into the pen with Coco while Jon and Leta had snacks on the grass, and I’ll tell you what. Sheep are scary. First of all, they’re way bigger in person than on television. And then one of them had this crazed look in its eyes, like it was going to charge me at any second, and I don’t know enough about sheep to know if it could cause any real damage if it went ahead with that plan. But I had faith that this trainer knew what she was doing and had not put me in contact with a homicidal farm animal. Although I think that’s a great idea for a horror movie: vindictive sheep. Or at least an episode of Dr. Phil where he tries to convince them to be more forgiving.

Coco eyed the sheep suspiciously, but other than that she had no interest and ran to the side of the pen to make sure Leta was still alive. So the trainer asked me to start chasing the sheep myself. And then she tacked on to that request an addendum that I would like to use as a warning to every single person out there who ever plans to marry. You might want to make sure that when you take your vows that somewhere in there is a clause that says, “If I am ever asked to run around a pen in pursuit of a sheep so that I might slap its ass, you are not allowed to recount what that looks like to any of your friends.”

Internet, I chased sheep and slapped their asses. And after a few seconds I totally forgot what it ever felt like to have any dignity. Coco watched me for several minutes, dumbfounded, and when the trainer pointed out that her attention had shifted from Leta to me she asked me to start yelling Coco’s name in a high-pitched voice. Because the whole situation wasn’t already ridiculous enough. This was exactly what my nightmares look like, except in those I’m usually wearing nothing but a Disney Princess diaper and have just been told that tomorrow I have an exam in a French class that I forgot I had signed up for.

But that’s when something magical happened, and I will never forget this. I swear to God, suddenly Coco gave me this look, and I promise the look was in perfect English. It said: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME. YOU ARE ACTUALLY ENCOURAGING ME TO CHASE THOSE ANIMALS?

And that was it. All it took was a nod of my head, and her DNA kicked in. All of a sudden we had a sheep herder. An honest-to-God herding dog. She showed glee and exhilaration and skill that I did not know she had in her. For the next hour and a half as she took turns with the other dogs, she would sit outside the pen with both eyes fixed like lasers on the sheep inside, letting out a tiny moan when one of them would move. Jon and I would exchange knowing glances, like here was our dog doing what it was born to do, and isn’t it magnificent? And that’s when I suggested we adopt a herd of sheep, our backyard could fit maybe six or seven, we could harvest the wool and sell handmade clothes on Etsy. He said he would consider it when he’s dead.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2008/09/10 at 2:59 pm

    “Internet, I chased sheep and slapped their asses.”

    Now there’s a line you don’t read everyday …

  • bianca

    2008/09/10 at 3:02 pm

    not sure why, but that made me gleefully happy for you. or coco. not sure which…

  • Sarah Mary

    2008/09/10 at 3:03 pm

    Evil sheep movie? Already been done.

  • Julie

    2008/09/10 at 3:03 pm

    THAT is way too cool! Thanks for sharing!

  • Deidre

    2008/09/10 at 3:05 pm

    The embarrassing things we do for our dogs.

    I grew up in the outback of New Hampshire, with 5 horses. One of my Aussie shepherds immediately took to herding them, it is exhilarating isn’t it?

  • andrell

    2008/09/10 at 3:05 pm

    you made my day.

  • Smalltown Mom

    2008/09/10 at 3:05 pm

    I could offer her a job herding small children on a playground.

  • Schatze

    2008/09/10 at 3:07 pm

    I’m glad you finally wrote about this! Did not expect the sheep/ass slapping, but hey- whatever works! For the record, shearing sheep is really foul- my grandparents have a ranch in WY and I’d rather artificially inseminate a cow.

  • Carrie

    2008/09/10 at 3:07 pm

    Somehow when I loaded your post I read that sheep chasing and ass-slapping line first. So I assumed, of course, that this was a post about insomnia. Hard-core insomnia.

  • Caroline

    2008/09/10 at 3:08 pm

    Evil sheep movie! Here you go!

  • James John Malcolm

    2008/09/10 at 3:09 pm

    Hehehe, the internets grinned sheepishly, barn yard doocing!

    But yes, sheep are freaky like that. You can tell the weather by them though 🙂

  • Megan

    2008/09/10 at 3:09 pm

    This is as fabulous as it gets to my majored-in-animal-science heart!

    I have to admit that I was secretly hoping that Jon was ever ready with his camera and got photographic evidence of the sheep chasing and ass slapping. Really, really hoping…

    Leta’s slightly more advanced vocabulary makes me laugh out loud in a really obnoxious way.

  • Andra

    2008/09/10 at 3:09 pm

    It must have been very exciting for you to witness your dog doing something completely right (almost) the first time around. Go Coco!

  • Katie

    2008/09/10 at 3:09 pm

    “…was probably a lot like what Jon experienced the first time he met my mother and was all, oh. Now I get it. The Crazy is hereditary.”

    I’m pretty sure this is EXACTLY what my husband thought when he met my mother. God Bless our husbands.

  • LeeLee

    2008/09/10 at 3:10 pm

    …love the visual of you running around the pen…bwahhahaha!

  • lorim

    2008/09/10 at 3:11 pm

    Well, now that you know what Coco’s calling is, perhaps she’ll stop throwing herself over Chuck’s back like a big-ass bag of wet sand. Great post, Heather!

  • belletoes

    2008/09/10 at 3:12 pm

    So cool. I wish you had video. I would love to meet the parents and/or siblings of my mutts, too. MoMo Shanaynay is Chuck’s twin (I’ve sent you a pic of her)and would be awesome to figure out what the hell they are!

  • Leesavee

    2008/09/10 at 3:12 pm

    PLEASE tell me that there is video of this!!!!! You slapping the sheep on the ass, that is.

  • Jacquie

    2008/09/10 at 3:12 pm

    That’s awfully cool. I wonder how I might go about discovering what my dog’s DNA inclines her to do. She must have been made for more than just unstuffing animals.

  • Nat W.

    2008/09/10 at 3:12 pm

    And there’s not video of that??

  • Therese

    2008/09/10 at 3:13 pm

    The mental picture of you herding sheep, while screaming Coco’s name? That will stay with me for some time. And I, for one, am delighted.

    Thank you, Heather, for giving the Internet such a wonderful gem.

  • Kymmi

    2008/09/10 at 3:16 pm

    Love the ending. Such a perfect ‘and we all lived happily ever after’ – with you know, our urban herd and Etsy shop.

  • Phoo-D

    2008/09/10 at 3:16 pm

    That mental image of you chasing sheep is hilarious. Where, oh where was John with his camera?? It’s great to see a working dog doing what they were bred to do, one of the greater joys in dog ownership in my opinion. Coco finally got her day!

  • Jen

    2008/09/10 at 3:17 pm

    Definitely time to get sheep.
    Leta can count them, after reading her bedtime book.

  • Pamela

    2008/09/10 at 3:17 pm

    Oh man I hope there’s video. I’m on board with the others – let’s see it!

  • Stephanie Melton

    2008/09/10 at 3:17 pm

    Did not see that coming – but, so glad I stopped by here today! I had to wipe the tears from my laughter out of my eyes so that I could type. I am very happy for Coco, though!

  • Sarie

    2008/09/10 at 3:18 pm

    Yay! I love this story – I was wondering when you were going to write about it and like many other commenters before, I hope that you have a video of this excitement!

  • Hes

    2008/09/10 at 3:18 pm

    That is so freaking cool! We really need to get our shepherd mutt out there herding sheep, I know she would have the time of her life.

    So… where are the pics of sheep chasing by the Dooce????

  • Roxie

    2008/09/10 at 3:19 pm

    We had a border collie and a german shepherd mix once. The collie would run in circles around the other, confused dog. Many laughs were had.

  • Becky

    2008/09/10 at 3:23 pm

    LOVE. IT. I love your description of how it only took seconds for your last vestiges of dignity to evaporate. And if I’m reading correctly, there was no alcohol involved.

  • Tina

    2008/09/10 at 3:24 pm

    I haven’t yet read this whole entry (except the last paragraph because I was distracted that it was about Coco and whenever I see you write about Chuck or Coco it makes me miss having a dog so very badly! Back to the point…), but I intend to read it soon. I just wanted to quickly thank you for your boom entry. I was once a hard-core conservative, LDS and a stubborn bitch about it, too. I’m agnostic now, and have both conservative and liberal views. I saw some nasty comments, and didn’t like or agree with everything that you said (though a lot of it I did), but it opened a door for people. I was able to get such a better perspective of what REAL people think and feel about this election and those running for it, the issues that matter to them, and those that don’t. I appreciate that greatly. I understand some of what was said was hurtful and cruel, and that’s a shame, but some of us enjoyed and respect your opinion, even if we didn’t agree with it completely or 100% of the time.
    Now, about that cute Coco of yours… I had an English Setter once, and Coco reminds me of her so much. I wish I had given her the opportunity to do what you did for Coco, letting her go with what comes naturally to them.
    Ok, children beckon… Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and providing a place for others to do the same.
    A fellow Utahan,

  • Mo

    2008/09/10 at 3:24 pm

    I secretly dream of doing this. Except my sheep will be alpaca and I will hand-spin the yarn…never mind. I knit. It’s a knitter thing.

    Also, my dog would probably try to saunter up to the sheep all casual, flick an imaginary cigarette butt in effort to look as cool as them, and then be dissed by the sheep because he is, in fact, less cool than sheep, which really says a lot about how totally doofy my dog is.

  • sara

    2008/09/10 at 3:26 pm

    “Or at least an episode of Dr. Phil where he tries to convince them to be more forgiving.”

    That comment right there sums up why I like your blog.

    And how cool for Coco… how often does she get to do this? And does it make her calmer afterward or make her want to heard you around the house more?


  • Alissa

    2008/09/10 at 3:26 pm

    Please, God, tell me Jon had a video camera.

  • Robin

    2008/09/10 at 3:29 pm

    This is the only not-rated-X sheep and ass-slapping story I’ve ever read on the Internet.

    Also, I have an Italian greyhound that is very much like our cats — except more needy and desperate — until we take her out for a run. When she runs, it’s the most graceful thing. She is transformed. And the most amazing thing is that we don’t even have to throw a ball, she’ll just start running big loops around us — just for the pure joy of doing what she was bred to do.

  • Kelly

    2008/09/10 at 3:31 pm

    I too, was going to mention the movie Black Sheep.

  • Corinne

    2008/09/10 at 3:32 pm

    You totally HAVE to enter Coco in the Soldier Hollow Sheepdog competition. Funnel cakes and sheep herding…it’s a seriously good time.

  • Snotty McSnotterson

    2008/09/10 at 3:33 pm

    This is hilarious. My boyfriend has earplugs for when bad teen dance movies come out, because he knows I will be just like Jon in the Apple department.

  • Jillian

    2008/09/10 at 3:34 pm

    I tried not to laugh out loud while I read this at work. It’s not working too well.

    “Internet, I chased sheep and slapped their asses.”

    I’m trying to picture a tall, fully grown blonde doing this and it’s not helping me concentrate on writing a story about 45 third graders participating in the Sunflower Festival.

    Thank you.

  • anna

    2008/09/10 at 3:34 pm

    Hah! The moment of Coco finding her life’s calling. I am wiping a virtual tear from my virtual eye.

  • Julie

    2008/09/10 at 3:34 pm

    wtf sheep make me angry they are so damn STUBBORN.

    we had 2 sheep when we were kids and they ate trees.

    and then they ate chicken feed and bloated and DIED.

  • Liz C

    2008/09/10 at 3:34 pm

    A dog as smart at Coco needs a job to keep from going batshit crazy. Sounds like she just found her passion. How cool is that?

    Hmmm.. I still haven’t found mine. Maybe I should give sheep-ass-slapping a try.

  • BillyJean

    2008/09/10 at 3:40 pm

    That is just incredibly cool. I suppose Coco will now take an interest in chasing and trying to herd everything: dandelion fluff, ants… Leta…

  • Molly

    2008/09/10 at 3:41 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how they do when instinct kicks in? My little one loves herding and I’m trying to get the time to train him regularly.

  • LP

    2008/09/10 at 3:42 pm

    I can’t stop laughing! I love you Dooce, I totally do. It’s stories like this, that are truly so cool but told in your Dooce-alicious (that is to say clever and humorous) way, that, with half an hour to go in the work day, completely lift my spirits. My husband thanks you for that.

  • Sam

    2008/09/10 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks for the laugh, my first of the afternoon.

    I bet you would enjoy this movie:

    Wallace and Gromit are so sweet and funny, and the moviemakers are patient geniuses with a quirky sense of humor. A Close Shave is sheep caper, but all of their films are fun. Try it, I think you might like a lot.

    Happy day!

  • Lindy

    2008/09/10 at 3:43 pm

    Sometimes just before I read one of your posts I think you’re highly overrated why am I here and why am I still reading. The reason I’m still here is because of posts like today. I think you’re a fucking genius- oh my god I almost peed myself laughing. I’m sure Jon has video- it must be posted.

  • gingela5

    2008/09/10 at 3:44 pm

    It’s amazing what dogs can make you do. I’ve been humiliated on more than one occassion by trying to coax my dogs into doing something. Mainly talking in baby voices and making up songs about them.

  • Thom Holwerda

    2008/09/10 at 3:45 pm

    Nothing is more fun to me than people describing their first real-life experience with farm animals. I’ve lived in the Dutch countryside the entire 23 years of my life so far, and chicken, cows, sheep – nothing new.

    I’m still not entirely sure which of them are the stupidest, and the smartest. For instance, sheep – they look so peaceful, kind, fluffy, and all look-at-me-chewing-the-grass-with-my-brain-the-size-of-a-pistachio, but I’ve looked them straight into the eyes, and I swear to god, there’s more in there than we are able to comprehend. Sometimes, I think we don’t herd them – they herd us. And sheepherding dogs like Coco? They are totally into the conspiracy.

    Make sure to open the comments whenever you have an entry on cows or chiken. I have my theories.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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