Duncan the Wonder Dog

From scruffy mutt to regal specimen.
By Anne Laurence, September 2009, Updated February 2015

I wonder if Duncan’s first owners thought he was a Scottish Terrier. Why else would they have given him such a grand Gaelic name? We met Duncan when he was six-months-old—by then he weighed thirty pounds with legs like stilts and ears like goalposts. Obviously, Duncan was not a Scottish Terrier.

We were visiting the shelter in search of a big dog, but when we saw Duncan we wondered if he was the dog for us. At first glance, he was a somewhat scruffy mutt, but he had beautiful, wise golden eyes and a very happy and confident demeanor. We went back the very next day to bring him home with us.

We enrolled Duncan in obedience class, where he soon became known as “Duncan the Wonder Dog,” because he was the model student and he had the most amazing repertoire of tricks. Okay, maybe your dog can catch anything from any distance, like Duncan, and maybe your dog will wave goodbye when you leave for work, like Duncan…but I wonder if your dog shakes his head from side to side (that’s right, side to side, not up and down, Counselor) when you ask him if he likes lawyers!

Living with a wunderkind of a dog can be a challenge. At first, we tried crating Duncan when we left the house, for his safety and our peace of mind. Within a week, to our wonder, our Houdini hound had figured out how to unhook the latch. We installed a baby gate so that Duncan would be confined to the back of the house, but it didn’t take very long for us to return home to find Duncan on the “wrong” side of the gate—or, if he was on the “right” side, the comforter on our bed would have conspicuous canine creases. Needless to say, we gave up on restricting Duncan to or from any part of HIS house.


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All this time, Duncan continued to grow. His legs grew, his torso grew and his fur grew. We wondered when the growth spurts would end. By the time they did, we had the big dog we originally wanted: Duncan weighed 75 pounds, and the somewhat scruffy mutt now was a rather regal specimen!

We could take Duncan anywhere. We never wondered how he would behave. He always was a perfect gentleman—although at parades he would raise his snout to the heavens and howl when the fire engines sounded their sirens, much to the amusement of other parade-goers. On the Friday evening after September 11, 2001, there was a candlelight vigil along Ridge Avenue, which spans the entire length of our town. Duncan and I walked over to be part of that meaningful memorial and—wouldn’t you know it—the city’s police and fire departments had vehicles that traveled the route, sirens sounding, to close the vigil. On that night, Duncan’s howling seemed appropriately mournful.

Duncan and I once won a look-alike contest! We beat out a Dalmatian whose owner sported a black-and-white polka-dotted outfit. I’ll bet you wonder what I wore…nothing! Well, nothing special, Duncan and I won on the merits of our mutual grey hair.

There was never a time that we were out with Duncan that someone didn’t wonder about Duncan’s lineage: “I wonder if he is an Irish Wolfhound.” “I wonder if he is a Briard.” “I wonder if he is an Otterhound.” “I wonder if he is a Giant Schnauzer.” “I wonder…” We wondered too, but to tell the truth, we really didn’t care, because Duncan was a wonderful dog!

Annie Laurence is a grant writer for Oakton Community College. She and her husband share a little house in Evanston, Ill., with a Cairn terrier, two Great Danes and their college-age daughter who drops in from time to time.