Oscar was a bright little fellow right from the time we got him from a friend. His Jack Russell fathered the litter, and one of the litter came our way. Our original family dog Alpha that came with us to the 10 acres in Moruya (only having had a fenced back yard in Sydney), had a psychological and physical break down having to handle so much boundary territory markings.
We were in Moruya establishing the Basil Sellers Athlete Respite facility for Australian Institute of Sport elite athletes and later opened Australia's Bush Orchestra on the other side of the 10 area allotment.
Australia's Bush Orchestra post card
Two other puppies came our way after Alpha, one died of rating poisoning, the second was run over, but Oscar managed to stay alive and became a bit of a legend in his own life time.
He entertained the elite athletes endlessly with his ball chasing and finding abilities in the nearby thick undergrowth. He guided the tourists around the bush path as they enjoyed the birdsong of the Bell Minar and read the stories of great evangelists on plaques situated along the walks. He'd bail up anyone coming into our private drive way but welcome with open arms (waging tail and broad smile) anyone entering via the tourist walk.
He made occasional sojourns to the local school where he entertained the 'disabled' school children with ball chasing to their great delight and gave the teachers and carers some respite - Oscar was a welcome guest. He would follow our four children to the school bus, see them safely on board, and trot back home. He'd hear the bus in the afternoon and likewise ensure their safe return.
Snakes were his favourite past time, and after dispatching them, he'd lay them beside my wife Delma's feet while she hung out the clothes, and gave that look as if to say, "What a good boy am I!" When Delma dug in the garden Oscar would bring the tennis ball and drop it in the hole expecting (demanding) a game of fetch.
Most of all Oscar was a great listener, as he would keenly pay attention to my theological and philosophical utterances and moreover, when I was on the phone he would assume I was speaking to him and he's join in with howls of intelligence. Moreover he was a keen evangelist and visited the neighbours and as history recalls, got hounded back to where he came from.
Research - 160 words
A recent report in News.com reveals a whole lot about what our canine friends understand, how many words they acknowledge and that they comprehend a whole lot more still. (www.news.com.au)
I hardly need to tell the dog loving reader any of this, for from their own experiences with their own pooches, this is not only common knowledge but rather, it is a matter that has been tried and tested (and generations past).
The article cites - "Most dogs are able to understand 160 words according to YouTube science channel HeadSqueeze. And by 'words' we aren't just referring to the literal meaning, but also gestures and signals such as whistling."
It notes that it's also not what we say but often how we say it that gives our four-legged friends a clue as to what we mean. For example, if you start reading the back of a cereal box to your dog in a deep cranky voice, chances are it will feel intimidated and back off. While if you read the exact same box in a cheery voice, it will jump all over you in excitement.
What is pointed out is that dogs learn commands by associating sounds with the object or command, so when you use the same word over and over again to refer to an object or action the dog will eventually correlate the two. The advice is to confess your deepest most heart breaking secrets to your dog in a happy voice.
However our children when sobbing, each would get great comfort by cuddling up to the dog who somehow understood the gravity of the situation and would in like manner distil comfort and copious amounts of liking away of tears.
1995 Oscar with Salley then 5 years of age
John Wesley was once asked whether their beloved pets would be with us in heaven, who affirmed they would be, so, far be it from me, to disagree with such a theological and evangelistic luminary.
(This story was written for our eldest daughter who turns 35 today and in undergoing breast cancer chemo after surgery).
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html