Of UnderDogs and Shuttlecocks.

When we first got Toby and Tootsie, we knew that they were poodle crosses, but we didn’t actually know what with. We made a lot of jokes about how Tootsie was crossed with someone handsome and intelligent, like George Clooney (I’m assuming he’s intelligent) and Toby, well, Toby was probably crossed with a Minion, cute, and ‘Baa… Naa… Naa…’, if you know what I mean.

The mystery was revealed this week when we went through their papers in order to set them up for pet insurance (Hello Medibank, do you cover eviscerated Teddy Bears?). Tootsie is, of course, crossed with a Schnauzer, those cute little ‘old man’ dogs, which explains her hunting pedigree, effortless elegance and gorgeous gray coat. Toby, on the other hand, is crossed with a Shih Tzu. Which makes Toby a Shiht Poo, which, once again explains everything… sigh.

Cute miniature schnauzer on the leash posing on spring grass girl's legs in boots in background

I thought we were making progress the other day – I was trying to train both the dogs to ‘Sit’, ‘Go up!’, and ‘Go down’. For Tootsie, this was revision – she’s got these three moves down pat ever since we got her. For Toby, this was summer school, if you catch my drift. He can now almost Sit on command, and I pray that he never confuses it with ‘Sh!t’ on command, otherwise it will be a very messy affair.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when in saying ‘Up!’, Tootsie immediately assumes the position, as usual, and Toby actually climbs up with his front legs onto the chair where I was sitting. The treats could not leave my hand quick enough to praise Toby for his progress, and he repeated it a second time, which was just the greatest thrill for me. Yay, we’re getting there! I thought. Maybe I am a good father after all! – my imaginary hands reaching all the way to my back to pat my imaginary shoulders.

The joy was short-lived though, because on the third ‘Up’, treat in hand, Toby just sat there with a blank expression. Looking into his eyes was like looking into the Abyss, it was like looking into the Earth of Genesis 1:2, awaiting God to breathe life into it – formless and void. I had to shake myself away from the gaze as I felt myself being sucked into the vacuum that was Toby’s mind.

dog breeds shih tzu

Even as I write this, Tootsie paws at me to come and play, and I oblige (being the tough, no-nonsense marshmallow that I actually am). We play a game of tug-of-war with a twice-dead rubber chicken, and I am trying to distract Tootsie so that I can throw the tennis ball for Toby to fetch. Toby has been actually playing fetch with the tennis ball of late, which is encouraging, but only if Tootsie is distracted. Otherwise, Tootsie is far too lightning quick for Toby’s golem-like reflexes – Schnauzer 1 : Shih Tzu 0 every time.

I am tugging hard at the chicken, right, and Tootsie’s eyes actually follow the ball while pulling at the chicken with the crazed ferocity of a caffeined-up multi-tasker. I throw the ball, and Toby goes after it. The ball lands behind a tin, out of sight, and Toby trundles back, confused. It’s gone! his open mouth says. It disappeared! Are you sure? I say, eyeing the ball from where I am. Yup, poof! No more! his open mouth says again. I facepalm myself with my non chicken-wielding hand.

I go to retrieve the ball, and I am reminded of a story I heard last week. A friend was telling me about his Uncle’s German Shepherd in India, whose name was Donkey. Why do you call him Donkey? he asked his Uncle. Because when we bring him to a park, and we try to play fetch, we throw the ball and we are the ones retrieving the ball, sighs the Uncle. Donkey just sits there without moving.

Toby. Donkey Junior.


Part of the reason for Toby’s slow progress, I feel, is that Tootsie actually gets in the way of Toby’s learning. Tootsie is so hyper-intelligent and often so selfish, that she is the one who gets first dibs on all the toys, and the first to get to any thrown object, and she has not been one to include Toby in most of the play. We were hoping she would be more sisterly, but their relationship is like a bratty teenage girl picking on her two year old brother.

Which brings my mind to  Sunday badminton. We have a group that meets every Sunday to play badminton. Badminton, for the uninitiated, is the Asian version of tennis, except that this is tennis for ninjas. It is played with racquets and a feather-light shuttlecock, and requires lightning-fast reflexes, a strong wrist and dazzling footwork to be able to land the shuttlecock in your opponents’ court.

It is actually quite a good group that we play with, actually, with different skill levels and man, some of them are just a joy to watch, with their elegant net-play, their powerful leaping smashes and their confusing cross-court shots.

How good am I at badminton, you ask? Well, let’s just say that I am the Tootsie of the badminton world.

Oh sorry, did I say Tootsie? I meant Toby. I am the Toby of the badminton world, a lot of chasing after the ‘ball’ to little effect, setting up my body to smash and then catching wind with my racquet instead, a perpetually perplexed look on my face as I play. I have once or twice been tempted to pee on the court.

Because the court is booked for two hours and each game lasts only about ten minutes, we often mix and match players so that everyone gets a chance to play.

It is always difficult when there are mixed levels of experience and skill on the same court. I have great respect for the Tootsies of the badminton world who are able to Toby-fy themselves – they bring their play down to your level, their cultured wrists attenuating the strength of their smashes and they don’t care if they win or lose, they just want to make sure a good time was had by all. Of my group, all the players are of this mould, which makes for a fun Sunday evening.


I have heard of, and don’t really understand, though, the Tootsies who remain Tootsies, and would snigger at your suggestion for a game, or who would attempt to murder you with their smashes (Cause of death: Shuttlecocked), or growl at you when you miss a shot. Hey dude, let’s pretend it’s Sunday evening at the Maribyrnong Sports College and not March at the All-England finals.

I do get it, sometimes, though. You want a good workout, you want to be able to play at your level best. You want to win. Well, there will be opportunities for that. I believe the sign of a true master is someone who is so comfortable with him- or herself that they are able to then forfeit this constant need for victory in order for everyone to have a good time and to encourage the weaker players.

Which is why when I look at Tootsie, I just wish that she was a little kinder and more inclusive to Toby, you know? Instead they get involved in these little dogfights (punpunpunpun) when Tootsie grabs at the tennis ball that poor Toby was trying to go after as well.

Ah well, we as the adults have to get involved, I guess. Toby is slowly but surely growing in confidence, and we actually had him grabbing at a toy with Tootsie the other day, which warms me right in the shuttlecocks.


Yo, Dawg.


Walking Tootsie and Toby has been really difficult of late. I don’t mind the pee or picking up their poo, but whenever we meet other dogs, I always feel that there is a 15% chance of certain mauling or death. My certain mauling or death, that is.

Tootsie and Toby have both been growing in confidence with every walk. In fact, together, with me as their leader, they think that we are some kind of a bad-ass gangbanger crew.

They walk with that assured swagger like they own the place, y’know? Tootsie (a.k.a Tootpac) and Toby (a.k.a the Notorious To-B.I.G.) goin’ round town with their head dawg, erm (quick, what’s a good street name for me?) The Original Hengster just rollin’ in our ‘hood, marking out our territory, yaknowwhaddImsayin’?

They bark like they are bigger dogs. They are not bigger dogs. In fact in the scale of the Dog World, I think they come in somewhere between Giant Rodent and Petite. But Tootpac and The Notorious To-B.I.G. don’t know that.


Case in point, Monday evening.

So me and my dawgs were just walkin’ the parks, y’ know? Just doin’ our thang, pissin’ on trees (the dogs, that is. I don’t piss on trees. I urinate on them.) and poopin’ everywhere (once again, just the dogs, ‘cos y’know, jail time for indecent exposure if I did it), and then suddenly Tootpac pulls at her leash. The Notorious To-B.I.G. is straining as well, because in the distance, there were dogs from the Rival Gang, y’know?

Let me paint you a picture of these dogs. These dogs were mean-ass Dobermans, black as night, standing the height of a human person and they looked like they had spent time in prison for killing other dogs (and maybe a human or two), you know what I mean? These were bad ass motherfather dogs, if you catch my drift. They just stood at attention, staring on bemusedly at these two little living mops yelping at them, while they silently sharpened their teeth.

Yo you! Hey you! Hey ugly! Hey stupid! Tootpac yelped. I bet my Dad can beat up your Dad!

Yeah you! Hey you! Hey! Hey! The Notorious To-B.I.G. echoed, with not enough vocabulary to throw any meaningful insults. My Dad, your Dad, bam!

And then I saw their Dad walk up to these three unleashed cold-blooded murderers – this scrawny Asian dude who I am sure I could have taken on, and maybe even beat the crap out of (at a game of Scrabble or Magic The Gathering ™ or something. Maybe.)

But it wasn’t Dad I was worried about. I looked at the dogs and I could already feel their teeth clenched shut against my neck (or worse, hanging off my googly bits) and a painful, bloody visit to the hospital with emergency doctors sniggering at the triage notes.

Come on, Tootpac. Come on, To-B.I.G. I said hurriedly. I, urm, remember a store we urm, have to rob, I said, trying not to sound like my testicles were riding high in my pelvis.

I had to pull hurriedly at the leash to budge the leaping, barking Team Toto away from these Canine Crips before they got killed, or actually, before got killed.

And so we ran away into a nearby lane, their little hearts pounding in excitement, my little heart pounding in a mixture of fear and relief.

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No sooner had I taken a breath when Tootpac and the Notorious To-B.I.G. started pulling at their leashes again and barking, and I ran along with them anxiously. What? What? I yelled. I looked behind me to see if the Three Horsemen of Death were chasing us.

Instead, to my relief, all the ruckus was actually caused by this pretty little snow-white Maltese dog bounding happily and quietly in front of her assured owner, who was jogging while dressed in a grey and pink tracksuit. She may or may not have been attractive. (I was too busy looking at the ground, ashamed of my two misbehaving gangster wannabes to look her in the eye).

Alright, calm down, dawgs. Don’t be goin’ all crazy over dem pretty ladies! Dem all just love you and leave you, you know. And you, Tootpac! You a girl, dawg! Be cool! was what The Original Hengster should have said.

Instead, T.O.H. just kept tugging madly at the leash and saying ‘Come on, this way!’ wishing that the ground would open up and swallow him up. Or perhaps, I could go back to the Three Horsemen of Death and let Tootpac throw a few more insults, and then, just, y’know, see what happens.

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After all the excitement of dodging rival gangs and pretty women, we ended up in the third dog park in our area.

Tootpac decided that now was a good time for a poop, and so squatted to take care of business. T.O.H. was clumsily searching in his pocket for a plastic bag to pick up the poop in and was bending over to retrieve Tootpac’s No.2 when once again I felt a tug on the leash. I was half-bent with my plastic-bag semi-wrapped around the poop, when I looked up, and then, like a horror movie, I saw – almost in slow motion – my worst nightmare. An entire flock of seagulls spread across the park, begging to be chased down and barked at.

I could see it happening – Tootpac pulling wildly at the leash, Tootpac’s No. 2 (not the fragrance) flying up mid-air while The Notorious To-B.I.G. in all his clumsiness would position himself perfectly beneath my feet so that I would trip, and land face first in Tootpac’s Poop-pack.

My mouth almost closed into a slow ‘NOOooooo!!!!….’ imagining the horror that was about to unfold.

Mercifully, Tootpac backed down, and actually did not bark or run at the seagulls. She just stared curiously at them, and I gratefully walked to the dustbin and disposed of the evidence before pulling them slowly away.

Maybe this posse’s not so bad after all, I thought, walking now with my own swagger. Maybe they are starting to look at me like some kind of leader. Maybe I am The Original Hengster after all.

And then I tripped over The Notorious To-B.I.G.


These dogs, these dawgs, these dogs. Sigh. They will be the life and death of me. They bark wildly at other dogs, this morning they ran blindly across the streets to bark at a family who had brought their young daughter, all dressed in pink, out for a scoot on her scooter. I almost had a heart attack! They were unleashed! Luckily they did not attack the girl, but even luckier was the fact that there were no cars speeding around the bend at the time. Otherwise this could have been a very different post.

My life has never been richer, I have never felt more loved, and the house has never been warmer, but man, with the good comes the difficult parts of parenthood as well, you know? You just get terrified that one day the unthinkable is going to happen, God forbid.

I hope we can get them to obedience school soon, and that we will finally socialise them enough so that we can proudly walk them outside, and they will be quiet and calm and well-behaved, just like the other dogs; and not flip off Dobermans three times their size who will use them (or my googly bits) as a chew toy.

The ‘hood ain’t what it used to be, youknowwhaddImean?

Signing off,
T. O. H.

Happy (Worst. Father. Ever.)’s Day!


Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there who are celebrating it today! Take a bow, and have a great day, gents, because, man, I just don’t know how you guys do it.

Three weeks into looking after Team Toto, and it has been hard work. Fulfilling, yes, but hard work. 6.30 am starts and two to three walks a day, I have never been healthier/more tired in my life! My hands carry the stripes of the python-tight leashes constricting from all their straining when we go out on walks.

This morning on our walk, I had the best Father’s Day gift ever. I was walking the dogs in the dog park (which will henceforth be known as the Toilet) while playing our usual game of Is It A Stick or Is It Dried Poop? (hint: if it crumbles in your hand when you try to play fetch with it, it’s poop.) with Toby and Tootsie, and they had their usual pee.

A little bit more of a walk, and then somehow – and this has never happened before – they pooped at the same time. Without looking at each other, they coordinated a Boyband Time-Perfect Synchronised Poop. Backs to each other, no look, poop. Toby surprisingly took the lead and Tootsie, almost a split second later did the Simultaneous Squat ™ and were done (Ta-dah!), requiring only one plastic bag to clean up with, and to top it all off, we were very near a dustbin as well! I have never been more proud!

Or crazy.

Okay, I am officially crazy. Like barking mad. (Hah! Dad joke!) I know I am officially a new parent when I get excited about poop.

(But this was choreographed poop!)


I have also started doing the parent thing and calling them accidentally by each other’s name, before catching myself. Which is very hard when you try and train them as well. (Sit! Down! Good boy, Toby, my you are a smart one! I mean Tootsie! And I mean good girl! Good girl, Tootsie!)

*Tootsie looks upset and confused*

Karen has been struggling with the ‘his/her’ pronouns as well for them – but you can’t blame us. Tootsie looks like a poodle crossed with George Clooney’s hair, and will probably one day marry a hot humanitarian lawyer. Toby looks like a poodle crossed with an entire Korean boyband’s worth of cuteness – pretty, and pretty useless too.  He is nothing but a great lap dog, which I guess is God’s way of being fair – Tootsie has the smarts, and Toby has the looks.

[Tootsie versus Toby Doggy IQ count:

Tootsie: able to 1. fetch, 2. sit, 3. lie down, 4. beg, 5. stop

Toby: able to 1. sit. Like you know, whenever. Not necessarily on command.]

The people at the animal rescue told us that we would see different layers of their personalities come to the fore as the weeks go by, and Toby has certainly found a little bit of his confidence – much to my dismay. He has found his bark, and he is not afraid to use it. Once or twice we have seen him fight with Tootsie when she snatches at a bone he was chewing on or when she jumps in to grab a toy off him he was playing with. He growls to show his displeasure at Tootsie, but like an annoying fly she just dismisses him.


It certainly has not been perfect – I wish I could report that their (mostly) unconditional love has been met with the same response. There are still fleeting moments of weakness when I still want to give them away. Like yesterday, when after a long day of walking with them, and playing with them, I tried to lie down for some shut eye at the totally appropriate time of 5.30 pm.

Let me explain Saturday evening to you where we live. Saturday evening is the equivalent of Doggy Halloween – where all the dogs wander around the suburb where I live, haunting the area, trying to find someone to lick to death. Their mere passing across our front door sends Toby and Tootsie into conniptions – Tootsie’s deep bass barking (she’s a dude, really!) and Toby’s (Korean boyband) high-pitched barking coming together in a cacophony of whatever the opposite of Boyz II Men is. Toby’s, in particular, is un-ignorable. And so, after two minutes of trying my best to lie in bed and not feel their barks pierce my very soul, I storm off outside and tell them to keep quiet (my words were of an ungentlemanly nature).

Also, for the most part they have been reserving their Business Matters for the Toilet outside, but as of two days ago, mysterious puddles have started reappearing in the house. Toby (henceforth, the Pondmaker) is relieving himself in the house again despite numerous walks and cajoling to the backyard to pee, and we don’t know why.

Week 3, and a glimpse into fatherhood, in all my failures, fearful, flawed and still a little fresh. I can only imagine that looking after a little human being is so much harder. At least the dogs sleep throughout the night.

I think about the mugs or T-shirts that float around today that say ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ and I cringe a little at the pressure of having to live up to those lofty expectations. I will never be the greatest Dad. Perhaps our presence is more important than our perfection, and, with the limited energy that I have in me, I will strive to be the World’s Good Enough Dad.


There are great moments of joy, still – the dog’s quiet company as I am typing this, Toby rolling over for his belly rubs (his only trick in the book to get the ladies. Works everytime, by the way.) and Tootsie licking Toby’s face in pure, innocent (we hope) love. They have learnt to obey the command ‘Stop’ when we go out walking, and have mostly stopped barking at the Humans.

But God help us if a dog crosses our path. The barking, the mad leaping and tugging on the leash, the look of fear and accusatory anger in the other owner’s eyes when I try to stutter and explain that they’re new, and mostly harmless. And then Team Toto attack the other dog like a WWF tag-team. I pull them away, and if my hands weren’t so secured by their incessant tugging on the leash, I would totally facepalm myself.

Happy Father’s Day.