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The Yankee Express

Luke Valentino, a Dog with a Big Head

By Amy LeClaire

Every dog I’ve owned has captured my heart in a different way. Duke was my humble German Shepherd, unaware of his majestic size, a dog whose stick happened to be a log that he carried around the yard. Max was my childhood flame, the hippie mongrel whose life was taken by the last car he would chase. Lincoln was my bestie, king of this very column, and victor of all things ball related. What about Luke Valentino? 
Gosh how I love that meatball. His boxy head, gentle face, and inquisitive mind have had me at hello. His head (though a pedigree perk) has caused grand speculation. “Your dog has a blockhead!” They stalk him on the streets. “I’ve never seen a bigger block head than his!” They comment at cafes. “That is the blockiest head I’ve ever seen.” Luke glances up at me while the irony settles between us. Luke Valentino is no blockhead. I say this with all due respect to the blockhead dogs out there (I’ve owned a few). Some dogs just don’t listen, understand, or care to comply. They are the dogs who dash for the woods when you call them back. They are blockheads.
Luke, a non-blocky, is highly responsive, intelligent, and very capable when it comes to learning commands. He also knows how to do laundry, load the dishwasher, and dig holes for my flowers. Recently, he surprised me with even more knowledge—proper eating etiquette. 
“Luke, do you want to try a piece?” He learned how to eat watermelon like a human! He sat, begged, and watched me eat with the attention of an overachiever. His nose moistened. His paw rose slowly from the ground, a trade-off. His eyes held the taste of desire while he watched the watermelon wedge move closer to his mouth. “Go easy, Luke.” He nibbled off the top, chewed, then repeated, just the way he saw me do it. “Good boy!” I imagined him wiping the corners of his mouth with a cloth napkin.  
His eating manners have followed him to the front steps, where he sits patiently and watches how the rest of the world works. He knows the rules. He needs to STAY, even when tempted to GO.  I’ve watched him lift his big head to the fascinating sights on the road. Dogs on leashes and children on scooters fill his gaze. His heart swells with longing.  “There goes Oscar, my little dachshund buddy.” Every temptation draws him one thought closer to making the right choice. It’s not easy for a playful pup to stay put. His pumpkin squash of a head creases. A group of young boys begin a game of Race at the Stop sign down the hill from the front steps. “One, two, three.” He listens while they count and smiles. He seems to understand the sequence of numbers. Finally, off they go until out of sight. His smile closes while he concentrates on their disappearance, a sudden wolf in deep thought.’ “I bet I’m faster than them. The chubby one doesn’t stand a chance.” Sometimes the dichotomy between what Luke is supposed to do (STAY) and what he wants to do (GO) is just too great.
“Hi Rosie. I’m supposed to stay on my front step now.” He watches his favorite Doodle stroll along the sidewalk with her Dog Mom. Typically, he sleeps late and doesn’t get to see the early risers. This morning is special. Rosie’s playful spirit matches Luke’s exuberance. She’s sprightly and spunky, known to bounce across into my yard for a sudden playdate. “Hi Luke. I need to walk today.” This morning is different. Rosie needs to pick up the pace and get back home. She cranes her neck back to tell Luke. Still, he remains unconvinced. “Stay a few minutes?” He moves to the middle of the lawn to give her a closer look at his big, handsome head. He stares and smiles, in hopes that she’ll reciprocate his advance.
“I have to go now, Luke.” Her Dog Mom tugs her forward until she passes by our house. Her pace is a shuffle at best. She’s unable to resist Luke’s glance. “I-have-to-g-go-for-a-walk-Luke.” Her footsteps continue to stutter. Luke picks up on the cue. “She wants to play just as much as I do. I can feel it.”
Suddenly, he breaks the STAY rule. He turns into a blockhead. “ROSIEEEEEEE!!!!” He arrives within seconds at her shoulder and noses her side. “Freedom!” Within seconds the two friends are a tangle of play in my yard. Dog Moms have been had. I should be redirecting my dog to his spot on the step and exerting a dose of tough love. Instead, I consider the full evidence of his behavior. He stayed on the step while racers sprinted up the road. He learned how to eat watermelon. 
Two out of three isn’t bad, especially for a dog with a big head.