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The big, goofy, drooling estate dog

have always admired English Mastiffs. They are giant, elegant looking dogs, with a face that only another Mastiff could love.

When I heard about a pup living in town that needed a home in the country, I thought this was my chance to see if they were the outstanding dogs I had heard they were. Since I did not want to live in the barn with the new dog, I called my wife for her input.

She was not seriously opposed. What is one more head of livestock on the funny farm?

English Mastiffs were originally bred to protect hunting estates in England. They are enormous dogs, usually weighing 180-200 pounds. Their job was to walk the perimeter of the property and keep poachers out. If a poacher was found, the dog would jump up, grab the intruder by the upper arm or shoulder, and pin him to the ground. Here he would wait for the game keeper to come take the poacher off to the authorities.

Duke was just over a year old when we got him last fall. He was still a puppy, full of energy and clumsy as most pups are. He weighed 120 pounds and did not at first realize when he accidentally ran into a person, it knocked them flying and made them angry.

In a few short months, he has matured dramatically, both mentally and physically. He probably weighs close to 175 pounds now. He has learned not to jump up on people and rest his front legs on their shoulders. He has learned to check the perimeter of what he considers to be his territory. He has learned not to sit on someone's lap. When we go to the farm, he knows not to chase the deer or turkey.

The problem is in what he has yet to learn. There are some things I thought were instinct with dogs. Duke can not swim a lick. If I go out on the lake in a boat, he is going to attempt to follow. I found this out when he bailed off the dock toward the boat and sank like a rock. He is too heavy to lift into the boat so by the time I got this large flailing animal back to where he could touch the bottom, we were both soaked and exhausted.

I turned the boat to go out again and Duke tried to follow. He was not making much progress walking on the bottom of the lake, but he was going to die trying. I was beginning to feel this dog was several cards short of a full deck. I have heard of loyalty, but this was ridiculous. Now when I go near water, I tie up the big, goofy dog.

Another thing Duke has yet to learn is to leave the trash cans alone. To him, a thirty-three gallon plastic trash container is a toy to be thrown in the air and dragged around the yard. If the trash can is full, it is more difficult to throw and drag but no less fun. He also needs to learn that firewood is not stacked neatly so he can always find a nice stick to carry around. It is enough work to stack firewood once but I find it annoying to have to gather the wood from all over the yard and re-stack it a few times each week.

I know tackling people and pinning them to the ground is instinct for him, and I find it rather entertaining, but Duke needs to learn this is not acceptable behavior with my wife. She sees no humor in being pinned to the ground with a giant happy dog face grinning and drooling inches from hers.

I am sure Duke will make a good dog, doing what nature intended him to do when he learns the details in what it takes to protect the game animals on his estate.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.