Even though Hannah thoroughly enjoyed her mom’s delicious rosemary roasted chicken, she was really happy when dinner was finally over, because it meant it was time to go to the park with her dog, Molly.
“C’mon, girl, park time!” Hannah called, and moments later Molly appeared by her side, wiggling with excitement as Hannah attached a leash to her collar.
“I’m meeting up with Corey and Ben after the park to work on homework,” she reminded her parents as she headed out the door.
“Bye, honey!” her parents called after her. “Be careful!”
Going to the park after dinner had become a ritual for Hannah and her dog. But Hannah didn’t just play with Molly at the park. Together they were working on agility training. She was teaching her dog to run through an obstacle course and to practice skills like jumping over barriers and weaving between posts.
Molly was becoming very good at agility training. She seemed to love it. And not just for the treats she got as a reward for mastering a skill, though they helped a lot.
“Good girl!” Hannah said after Molly jumped over a low metal bar people used for push-ups and sit-ups. She snapped off a piece of a biscuit and gave it to Molly, who crunched the biscuit and wagged her tail.
She turned to see Ben and Corey, her two best friends, approaching. Together the three of them had formed Club CSI, a club dedicated to using the skills they’d learned in forensic science class. Their teacher, Miss Hodges, was their faculty advisor. She was also their favorite teacher at Woodlands Junior High. They felt lucky that she’d moved to their small Nevada town.
“Hi!” Hannah answered, waving. Molly barked a loud greeting.
“Hey, Molly!” Ben said, bending down to greet the bluish-gray dog with a pat on the head. She had a strong body with short fur and a black circle around one eye. She sat right by Hannah, looking as though she were smiling.
“What kind of dog is Molly again?” Corey asked.
Hannah started to answer, but then Corey stopped her. “Wait, don’t tell me,” he said. “I know you’ve told me before. I’ll remember.” He stared at Molly and pursed his lips, thinking. “An Austrian candle dog?”
“She’s an Australian cattle dog,” Hannah said, shaking her head.
“Oh, right,” Corey said, nodding.
“What would a candle dog be, anyway?” Ben asked.
“One that’s really bright?” Corey suggested.
Hannah laughed. “Well, she is
really bright, that’s for sure. She knows lots of commands: sit, stay, come, down, over, under . . .”
“I read that dogs can understand two hundred words,” Ben said.
“Which ones?” Corey asked.
Ben looked confused. “Which dogs, you mean? All of them.”
“No, I mean which words,” Corey explained.
“I think it varies from dog to dog,” Ben said. “And what language their owner speaks.”
“I saw a video of a dog on the Internet saying ‘I love you,’” Corey said. “At least, that’s what they claimed
the dog was saying. To me, it sounded more like ‘Ah wuh woo.’ And I’m not sure the dog really meant it.”
Ben turned back to Hannah. “Are you still having problems with Molly ripping things up? And nipping at people’s heels?”
“Nope,” Hannah said, scratching Molly’s back. “No more ripping and nipping. She’s been so much better since we started agility training.” Molly wagged her tail as Hannah spoke, as if she understood what she was saying. “Australian cattle dogs were bred to herd cattle, so they have a lot of energy. If they don’t get enough exercise, they can get destructive. That’s what was happening with Molly, but she’s much better now.”
“I’m kind of the same way,” Corey admitted. “What’s agility training, anyway?”
“We’ll show you,” Hannah said. She found some sticks and then stuck them in the ground, so they looked like a line of poles. “Come on, Molly! Weave!”
With a little encouragement from Hannah, Molly wove in and out of the poles, making her way from one end of the line to the other. When she made it past the last stick, she got another treat from Hannah.
“Good girl!” Hannah cooed, rubbing Molly’s ears.
“Very cool,” Corey agreed admiringly.
“I’ve heard that Australian cattle dogs are part dingo,” Ben said.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that too,” Hannah said.
“What’s a dingo?” Corey asked. “Sounds like some kind of Australian snack item.” He did his best Australian accent. “G’day, mate. Have a dingo? They’re crunchy and delicious!”
“A dingo is a wild dog found only in Australia,” Ben said.
“Or maybe a game,” Corey continued, feeling like he was on a roll. “Who’s up for a game of dingo? Really fun. You weave in and out of poles. Then you jump over a kangaroo!”
Molly bumped Hannah’s leg with her nose. “She wants to do some more training,” Hannah reported. “She loves it.”
“Is she good at it?” Ben asked.
Hannah led Molly toward a big horizontal cement pipe by the playground. The guys followed. “She’s getting good,” Hannah said. “In fact, I don’t want to brag. . . .”
“Ah, go on,” Corey said. “We don’t mind a bit.”
Hannah pointed toward the pipe. Molly ran straight through it and rushed back to Hannah. For that she got another treat.
“Well,” Hannah said, “this past Saturday, Molly competed in a contest sponsored by O’Brien’s.”
“The pet store?” Ben asked.
Hannah nodded. “Yeah. I think they board dogs too.”
“How’d Molly do?” Corey asked.
Hannah couldn’t help but grin with pride. “She won! First place!”
“Wow!” Ben said. “Was it an agility contest?”
“No,” Hannah said. “Just a general dog contest. But we did a few agility tricks, and the judges were really impressed. Molly was so good! She followed all my commands. And, of course, she was the most beautiful dog in the contest.”
“Of course,” Ben said, smiling.
Corey scratched Molly behind her pointed ears. “Way to go, Molly! Did they give you a big cash prize?”
“No cash prize,” Hannah said. “But they did give us special organic peanut-butter flavored dog treats. And a sticker to put on our window. It lets the fire department know there’s a dog in our house. Everyone got those.”
“Mmm, peanut butter,” Corey said. “I’ll bet Molly was a lot more excited about the treats than she was about the sticker.”
Molly bumped Hannah’s leg with her nose again, so Hannah gestured for her to go through the pipe again. Molly ran through it, ran back, sat at Hannah’s feet, and waited for her treat. She got it.
“Actually,” Hannah said, “Molly didn’t like the peanut-butter treats. I don’t know why. The other dogs seemed to love them.”
“Hmm, that’s strange,” Corey said. “Do you have any of those peanut-butter treats on you? Maybe I should check them out.”
“Check them out how?” Ben said. “By eating them?!”
“Maybe,” Corey said. “I’m sure they’re safe. And maybe they’re delicious. As delicious as a dingo!”
“No, these are different treats,” Hannah said, holding up one. “These are the kind Molly likes.”
The three friends were still laughing about Corey eating dog treats when a cute little dog ran up to Molly. It was a small brown-and-black dog, with a round, furry face and a pink collar. The two dogs sniffed each other and then started to play together.
“Stop! Get that dog away from Princess!”
A teenage girl wearing an oversize red Woodlands High School sweatshirt ran toward them, looking furious. She scooped up the little dog into her arms.
“They’re just playing,” Hannah said, smiling.
“That dingo would hurt Princess!” the girl insisted. “It’s way too wild to play with a little Norwich terrier like my Princess.”
Molly sat down with her tongue hanging out, looking friendly.
“First of all, Molly’s not an it,” Hannah said, trying to stay calm even though the girl was making her mad. “She’s a she. And she’s not a dingo. She’s an Australian cattle dog. She’d never hurt your dog. Look, she likes her!”
The girl ignored Hannah as she stomped away carrying her dog in her arms. “Did that nasty wild animal hurt you, Princess?” she said loud enough for everyone to hear. “Creatures like that shouldn’t be allowed in the park. Or the people who own them!”
Hannah watched her go with disbelief. “How rude!” she said. Then she cocked her head to the side, thinking. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I recognize that girl. Her name’s Lauren. She’s in high school.”
“And she works at O’Brien’s pet supply, doesn’t she?” Ben said.
Hannah turned to Ben, surprised. “Yes, but how did you know that? You don’t have a pet.”
Ben shrugged. “I went in there just the other day. I’m thinking about getting an axolotl.”
Corey stared at Ben. “You know, every time you say something like that, I think you’re just making up words.”
“I didn’t make up ‘axolotl’!” Ben said. “They’re really interesting. They’re this kind of salamander from Mexico, and they stay in their larval form all their lives. They have feathery gills that—”
Hannah interrupted before Ben could launch into a long, detailed lecture on Mexican salamanders. “Even though Lauren works at O’Brien’s, she entered her dog in the contest last weekend.”
Corey made a face. “That doesn’t seem fair. I mean, she’d know the judges, wouldn’t she? Her dog would be a shoo-in. Although dogs usually don’t wear shoes. So, I guess, a paw-in?”
Molly tilted her head toward Corey, as if she were listening to what he had to say.
“Well, she didn’t win,” Hannah said, looking satisfied. “Her dog came in second to Molly, and Lauren wasn’t happy about that. That’s probably why she was so mean, pretending to think Molly’s a wild dingo. She knows better than that. She had to have heard them call Molly an Australian cattle dog at the contest.”
“Man, it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” Corey observed. Then he looked at Molly and added, “No offense.”
Molly gave Corey a friendly look, as if to say, None taken.