Strolling along through the falling snow yesterday afternoon on my way home from the hardware store with a new snow shovel over my shoulder and a bag full of light bulbs in my other hand, I found myself being eyed suspiciously by a young German Shepherd who'd come out to supervise some work his owner was doing at the end of their driveway. When I'd approached to within a half a block of their yard, the dog bounded out into the middle of the sidewalk and stood there in an attitude that showed why German Shepherds are natural police dogs. His pose was distinctly cop-like. If he'd been a cartoon dog, he'd have stood on his hind legs, put his forepaws on his hips, and demanded to know, "And just where do you think you're going, bub?"
He had to settle for barking at me. The deep gruff no-nonsense bark of a dog who knows you belong in jail.
Didn't faze me. I like dogs, I especially like German Shepherds, there was still a lot of puppy in this dog, and he looked to me like he was putting on a show for the master. And I had a snow shovel.
The dog's owner, though, wasn't pleased with his nonsense and didn't want him scaring the neighbors. He ordered the dog back. The dog obeyed. Sort of. He retreated a few paces, circled his owner, accepted a pat on the head as a reward for his good behavior, and then walked right back out to where he'd been, barring my path, and warning me to back off and find another way home if I knew what was good for me.
I still wasn't impressed. The owner was right there, after all, and he seemed to have some control over his mutt. I kept walking. The dog kept barking.
"Get back here!" the owner yelled at the dog and this time reached out and took him by the collar and drew him back to a spot several paces up the driveway.
"Don't worry," the owner said as I walked by, "He's all mouth," which, considering that what's in a dog's mouth is the chief cause of worry, wasn't all that reassuring, but I said the dog wasn't bothering me, he was a handsome, sturdy fella, and I understood he was doing his job.
Then the dog started barking again and this time when he scolded him the owner called him by name and suddenly I felt some mild apprehension.
There are two things to avoid when you're naming a dog. One is giving him a name he thinks he has to live up to. The other is giving him one he has to live down. This dog had the first kind.
"CONAN!" the owner yelled. "Sit."
Somehow I don't think the dog was named after Conan the O'Brien.