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Big dog meets little dog for a summer of canine detente



There is nothing more exhilarating than simultaneously walking a very big dog and a very little dog. It’s like surfing the Banzai Pipeline off O‘ahu or BASE jumping in Yosemite.

Last week, we temporarily welcomed our daughter Gwyneth’s rescue dog, Merlin, into the Kelly household. This doubled the canine population here. But it increased the gross canine weight by only 10 percent. At 9 pounds, Merlin is a very small dog, indeed, especially compared to our 85-pound dog, Archie.

Archie is a yellow Lab. Merlin is a … well, what is he, exactly? He’s shaggy, with black fur. He’s a mutt, but he looks like what people call a Yorkie-poo. A DNA test suggested he’s mostly Chihuahua, a reasonable supposition since he came from a Los Angeles animal shelter.

Gwyneth has a busy summer, with lots of work-related travel, so My Lovely Wife and I are stuck with Merlin. We’re all — two-legged and four-legged — having to make adjustments.

Merlin is tiny. I’ve had roast chickens bigger than him. His black fur makes him disappear on dark rugs and in the shadowy corners of rooms. I’m on a state of constant alert, lest I tread upon him.

Suburban Iditarod Washington Post Metro columnist John Kelly takes great pride in walking a big dog, Archie, and a little dog, Merlin, simultaneously. (Video: John Kelly/The Washington Post)


He’s a bit of a barker, too. Enter a room and he barks. Leave a room and he barks. Look at him and he barks. Merlin’s bark is high-pitched and loud, like a smoke alarm. I don’t know how such a micro dog can emit such a macro bark.

Merlin’s bite isn’t anywhere near as bad. He’s had half his teeth removed. Whatever life Merlin lived before Gwyneth adopted him was not easy. He’s got digestive issues, too. We have to feed him a special grain-free, probiotic, salmon-based kibble. We dose it with fish oil for his dry skin. Wherever he goes, Merlin carries with him the odor of a chum bucket.

I don’t mean to make him sound awful. Merlin has many winning qualities, chief among them his loyalty. He’s very loyal to Gwyneth. When she leaves, he becomes morose. Sometimes he goes halfway up the stairs and just lies there on a tread, moping like a Victorian orphan.

I had hoped that Archie and Merlin would become buddies. I dreamed of them curling up together, or of Merlin climbing atop Archie’s back and riding him around the house like a Tusken raider atop a Bantha.

Instead, they studiously avoid each other. They’ve settled into a sort of détente, more Reagan and Gorbachev than Reagan and Thatcher. I think that’s okay. It’s preferable to antagonism.

Of course, Archie has his own issues. He’s a rescue, too, who only now, after three years, seems to be settling into our home.

Merlin is the sort of dog Archie just can’t understand: a dog that doesn’t wolf down his food the minute it’s placed in front of him. Instead, Merlin picks at his bowl over the course of an hour. That means we have to practice some pretty rigorous dog-wrangling to keeping Archie from scarfing down Merlin’s breakfast or dinner.


I’m sure Archie thinks l’il ol’ Merlin gets away with murder. After seeing that we allowed Merlin to sit in our laps, Archie tried to climb aboard. Dude, there just isn’t room.

We could walk the dogs separately, but that wouldn’t be very efficient. And yet the difference in scale and personality makes walking Merlin and Archie together a challenge. Archie’s walking style is to square his shoulders, pull the leash taut, then power forward with a single-minded determination. Merlin floats on his tiny paws, scurrying back and forth: in front of me, behind me, underneath me. On our first few walks, I worried I’d be tripped by the little dog then dragged down the street by the big one.

The other day, though, I figured it out. I had Archie’s leash in my left hand. In my right, I held Merlin’s. I had my right arm out a bit, as if I was holding a marionette. I kept it rigid to prevent Merlin from doing one of his skittering end-arounds.

At first, Merlin fought it. He jerked back and forth, a proud stallion unwilling to be broken. But as Archie chugged forward, something clicked and Merlin fell into the rhythm. I could relax both arms and marvel at the spectacle.

Merlin had to take three steps for every one of Archie’s, yet somehow he was able to keep pace, his little feet pumping up and down like furry pistons.

It was thrilling. I felt like I was flying two kites in a stiff wind. I felt like I had unfurled a spinnaker on a sailboat. I felt like I was in a suburban Iditarod.

On, Archie! On, Merlin! Mush! Mush!


Source: Washington Post

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