Substantial Gus

Gus is large. The largest dog ever to visit our home. I have given him a nickname: Substantial Gus.

A cross-bred mix of German shepherd and Collie, Gus weighs seventy-five pounds. He is not quick or agile, but he does have stability. A substantial presence. If Gus does not choose to move his substantial self, it is wise to step around his chosen resting place, even if it requires a lively fandango dance.

Last night I forgot to fandango, or even waltz, and went sprawling.

I should explain why Gus is visiting the farm the past couple month: pandemic. Our daughter scheduled a few college campus visits for our grandson (how can he already be old enough to go to college?) which required several days of travel. Gus pouts and does not eat when his family travels and boards him at a kennel. Gus will eat readily when he visits us on the farm. Maybe that is why his weight is up to seventy-five pounds.

Gus’s farm vacation was intended to be about a week or at most ten days. Then came the tidal wave of COVID-19 that would lock him down in dog-isolation. He does not seem to mind his relocation from the city to the country and his separation from his immediate family. He is free to range across fifty acres of hayfield and woodlands, digging for gophers and moles, rolling in yucky stuff, snacking on tasty spring grass and other wild things, drinking from streams and puddles, clotting his coat with burs and seeds. He’s enjoying his substantial self.

Gus is a trouble-free and undemanding guest. He is housebroken, never wanders far, answers to the whistle, enjoys looking out across the fields and woods from the screened-in deck, barks and chases after chipmunks and squirrels, and naps in the warm sunshine. There is one issue: he is used to sleeping in one or another of his family’s bedrooms at night. Soundly sleeping. Therefore, he believes his rightful sleeping place is on our bedroom floor, usually in front of the doorway where he can protect us from intruders. If there were intruders. And if they clumsily disturbed his slumbers.

This dog-in-the-bedroom phenomena is new to us. Abbey, our French spaniel, who weighs only forty-five pounds by the way, does not sleep in our bedroom. She sleeps in the kitchen, preferably on a mat in front of the warm woodstove, and she leaps awake and into action at the slightest disturbance with catlike grace and quickness. Did I mention that Gus is not particularly agile, lacks catlike grace and quickness, and weighs seventy-five pounds? I think so.

All this explains why Gus, guarding us in a deep and snoring sleep, was stretched out in the bedroom doorway at 2 a.m. when I awoke to answer my old man’s bathroom call. I danced a light fandango over Gus’s bulk on my way through the doorway and down the hall. Sleepily returning to the bedroom in the pitch dark, I completely forgot about Gus, stretched full-length across the doorway, guarding us in his sleep.

Gus is substantial. Did I mention that he weighs seventy-five pounds? I think so.

When my foot encountered Gus mid-stride I realized, too late, that I should be dancing. I myself am not blessed with catlike grace and quickness. Or even tortoise-like grace and quickness. Or even a passable sense of balance.


My knee and then my shoulder hit the floor before my head, for which I was grateful. One foot sprawled across Gus, who was annoyed to say the least. He groaned, moved to his sleeping pad by the wall (where he should have been in the first place), and crashed down with his signature thump, sigh, and moan. I lay on the carpet a few moments to assure myself I was not injured. I wasn’t, except for my pride. Climbing back into bed, I did some groaning and moaning and sighing myself.

“For throwing me down on the floor,” I told Gus (I never fall; I am tripped or thrown), “I’m not taking you for a walk in the morning.”

“Vharl scheemuh ivah huum,” Gus answered in German and promptly went back to sleep. He knows that I’m bluffing. If I do not take him on our morning walk, he tags along close behind me, bumping into the backs of my legs, threatening to tackle me until I relent.

And he could very well tackle me. Gus is substantial. Did I mention that he weighs seventy-five pounds? I think so.


More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through at  Jerry Johnson Author Page


About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
This entry was posted in Dogs, German shepherds and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Substantial Gus

  1. Sarah Fey says:

    Gus does not speak German, he speaks Spanish.

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