Hayden lives for two things: mealtime and chasing his ball or frisbee. Hayden is Lucy’s favorite at the park. Lucy, a compact Schnauzer/Aussie Shepherd-mix,  is an insane bundle of energy with a prancing run and a propensity for chasing other dogs. No store-bought toys for her; other dogs are her toys, and Hayden is her favorite.

Hayden is her unwitting rocket, she is his shuttle. He pays her no attention because he’s learned that she doesn’t want his toy. The only sign that he even realizes she is there is his slight acceleration when she’s hot on his heels. He only has eyes for his toy, she only has eyes for him. She gives him just enough space so that she doesn’t get tumbled during the unpredictable launch and she waits just a fraction of a second for him to take off so that she can find her position half a body-length behind. Always chasing. At full speed, they’re a formidable and mesmerizing duo worthy of a couple gasps from onlookers every time. 

When forecasters predicted five steady days of rain, her human and I commiserated as only high-energy-dog owners can.

He shrugged as he said, “We’ll probably last until Saturday or so before we cave. My wife says, ‘You know, you can always wash the car.'”
“But your car, right?,” I asked.
“Of course, my car,” he nodded with a wry smile.

Savants usually have some drawback trait (perfection is rarely found) and Lucy and Hayden are no exception. They also share the unfortunate honor as “rudest dogs at the watering hole” at the park. It’s actually a three-way tie with Cindy, the black lab. The way Hayden uses his mouth to drink is not unlike the way an alligator slams its jaws on its prey, sloshing more water out the sides of his mouth than he gets down his throat, leaving behind a disgusting drool-laced foaming slop (which I hurriedly throw out and refill with fresh water while muttering apologies at these polite-dog owners [honestly, where did you guys get your mild-mannered dogs?]). Lucy is insistent about washing her paws in the bowls and sometimes laying her whole upper body in the tipped-over bowl and resulting puddle. Cindy’s habit of sussing out any water source within the park, whether in bowls or in hidden puddles, has her human always carrying around a pre-emptive towel and yelling, “Damn it, Cindy!” whenever we hear a splash. As much as we try to monitor their behavior around the water, we are no strangers to towel-lined cars. I’ve met mature dogs, mature puppies, even, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that Hayden simply is not.

Hayden sprained a toe last Sunday slipping on some wet grass, and I kept him home from the park for an agonizing 72 hours. (No concern necessary, he still got his thrice-daily walks.) We went to the park yesterday after he lost his limp and then he reinjured himself in a collision towards the end of the session. It turns out, as Hayden found out, no matter how determined, you cannot run through a pitbull. Luckily, the pit, solid as a rock, emerged uninjured, but Hayden limped off the field.

This morning, he emerged from the crate with a very slight limp, but by the time I got home this afternoon, he had no noticeable deficit in his gait. We found ourselves in a brief spot of sunshine between two storms, so we headed down to the park to take advantage of this respite. After I had him trotting after lazy throws for about 20 minutes and monitoring his gait, Lucy showed up with her human and it was game on. I think he was waiting for her to show up because once she arrived, he started pushing his toys at me with renewed insistence. They went full-throttle for a while before I called him off and we headed home.

When we got home, all of a sudden, he started walking with a significant limp, even though nothing happened at the park that would have reinjured his toe to that extent. I suspect that Hayden has realized that I won’t take him to the park if he is limping and he masked his limp until he had gotten his fill of playtime. And once his focus is on the ball, he forgets his injury and loses any ability to recognize that he is experiencing pain. If you’ve seen the focus and drive in a police dog’s eyes when they’re given a task, you would recognize the same gleam in his. I can see him as a failed police dog — passed all marks for intensity and focus, failed for intensely focusing on things his trainer did not want him to focus on.

After owning Sachi and Clay, two highly self-monitoring dogs, dogs that would limp for a bit at the slightest incident just from the surprise, ladies that would look at you in disdain if they needed to pee while it was raining because ugh, my feetses are wet, Hayden is an entirely new animal to me. We definitely got his name right. Originally “Jake” from the shelter, bringing to mind images of a monotonous khaki-clad call-center employee, he was renamed after the motorcyclist Nicky Hayden who inherited his number 69 from his dad who selected it because it would look the same upside down in the dirt.

The next 48 hours should be raining steadily, so I’m anticipating a good amount of couch time as he recovers and I read through these rainstorms. Miu always joins us in our cuddlefests and I’m happy to be trapped inside, listening to the pitter-patter on the roof. Saturday will be our next opportunity for the park, but I’ll be manipulating his toes before we head out there again, lest he fool me twice.