Carman: Proud to be a ‘top dog’ owner

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By Donna Carman

I’ve got a top dog.
And that’s not just my opinion.
According to the American Kennel Club, the Labrador Retriever is America’s top dog of 2010.
In a segment last Wednesday on The Today Show, an American Kennel Club spokesperson gave the results of the country’s top five dog breeds. And the lab remains at No. 1 — for 20 years in a row!
Labs are followed by, in order of favorite, the German Shepherd, Yorkshire Terrier, Beagle, and Golden Retriever.
You’ll see a picture of Oscar, my black lab, below. He has that “Who, me? What did I do?” look on his face.
That particular shot of Oscar was taken back in the summer as I was tip-toeing through the back yard trying to get closer to an American bald eagle that was perched high in a tree, hoping to get a good picture. Oscar, of course, had to accompany me down through the yard as I tried to get closer to the eagle. Oscar does not know the meaning of “Shhhhh!!!!”
I had just scolded him when he flopped down in the grass, had a good roll, and gave me that look. A few seconds later the eagle flew off. (But he came back and spent several hours scanning Lake Liberty over for some tasty fish, I presume.)
Oscar, of course, is a Black Lab, as you can plainly see. He and his brother, Felix — (yes, Felix and Oscar, because they were rather the odd couple) — came to live at the Carman house when they were six-week-old puppies some six and one-half years ago. However, Felix (who was yellow, not black) is no longer with us. He disappeared on the day school started in August 2006 and we never learned what happened to him.
Felix didn’t have a collar when he disappeared, because neither he nor Oscar would wear one. We tried both leather and nylon, and like Houdini, they would always work their way out. We lost several cute little dog bone ID’s that way too. We finally gave up.
Oscar, and labs in general, are very smart dogs. He absolutely knows what we’re saying to him.
All Jeff has to say is, “You want to go for a run on the four-wheeler?” and Oscar takes off for the building where the four-wheeler is stored. It is his absolute, all-time favorite thing to do.
However, he will not ride in a vehicle. Hates it. It was a huge struggle to get him to the vet and back.
Oscar communicates with us very effectively too. The question, “You hungry?” will produce a series of  “chomps” equivalent to a human who smacks their mouth when eating.
Depending on how ready he is for dinner, Oscar will meet me far down the driveway when I’m coming home in the evenings, racing along with the Jeep to the garage. If he’s less hungry, he’ll wait till I get closer.
He always follows me into the garage, climbing nose and front paws first into the cab when I open the door (but never all the way in), and doing the same thing when I open the back door to unload camera bag, briefcase, purse, groceries, etc. If there happens to be some take-out in there, the tail wags a little faster.
Sometimes — also depending on his level of hunger — Oscar will come about halfway into the mud room where his food is stored, but he won’t come all the way into the house, even if you coax him. However, twice this winter, he has managed to place all four paws in the door, which I had never seen him do before.
Jeff can also get Oscar to “talk,” although I can’t, and he’s also taught him the art of “sit.” Jeff will hold out a tasty tidbit of something to Oscar, command that he not touch it (Oscar’s eyes will never waver from it though), and when Jeff says “OK,” Oscar will take it from his hand.
When Oscar and Felix were puppies, we would go down to the lake and play. We’d throw sticks in the shallow water and Felix would bound happily in and retrieve them, but Oscar was always a bit chicken. However, as Oscar grew older, he got braver, and he’ll now swim way out to bring a stick back to the bank. That’s because a great game of tug-of-war always ensues.
Oscar is also the best watch dog ever. No one comes down that driveway who doesn’t get him barking. But don’t try to pet him. He’s strictly a family dog and won’t let anyone else within touching distance.
I love my lab, I guess you can tell.
And apparently millions of Americans love them too. After all, Oscar is a “top dog.”