Best in Show
12.25.13 10:45 AM ET
Meet Butters, the Christmas Dog Model
The Twelve Days of Christmas were never so fancifully dramatized as by a Golden Retriever named Butters who possesses a particular innate ability.
“His great skill is he can sit perfectly still and he is amazingly tolerant,” says co-owner Dawn Mellon of Oregon. “He will let us put just about anything on top of his head.”
And 8-year-old Butters clearly enjoys having pictures taken of himself demonstrating that skill, along with a happy willingness to hold things in his mouth and even to wear high heels. The result is a Twelve Days of Christmas series viewable at the Daily Butters site thedailybutters.com. The photo for Monday was best described by the accompanying lyrics:
On the tenth day of Buttery Christmas my true love gave to me…
Ten Strips of BACON!
Nine Ladies Panties, Eight Milks and a Maid, Seven Rubber Duckies, Six Pieces of Pizza, Five Golden Twinkies, Four Border Collies, Three French Fries, Two Turtles & Doves…
And a Butters in a Pair of Heels
Butters gives every indication that he only wishes there were many more than twelve days of Christmas.
“He went into the room and pulled the high heels out and he was walking around the house with them,” Mellon reports.
Lest anyone doubt that Butters enjoys the photo shoots there is a video of him posing with a stack of hotcakes:
What Butters does not enjoy, and therefore what his owners do not put him through, is the very thing for which his breeding would have seemed to prepare him.
Butters comes from a long line of show dogs and has the conformation that could have made him a big winner. But Mellon said that Butters was simply not happy being paraded around a ring on a leash in a competitive atmosphere crowded with other dogs and owners.
“So the dog show world was not the place for him,” Mellon says. “He’s kind of a dog show flunk out.”
She is a professional dog trainer and adds, “I’m not one to drag them around and make them miserable… I would never do anything with a dog that they didn’t enjoy, that they didn’t want to do.”
Butters further proved to he psychically ill suited for the life of a show dog when he demonstrated what is known as canine circles as “resource guarding issues.” He was extremely protective of food, in his case not from humans, only other animals.
“He once growled at the cat over a frozen pea that fell in the kitchen,” Mellon says.
After much time and patience, Mellon was able to overcome the syndrome.
“A slow training process, teaching him how to make better choices…teaching him it’s OK for others to be around his food," Mellon said. “Just a real slow gradual change.”
On occasions when Butters did growl while laying near Mellon and her husband, Michael Biggs, she would move him to the other side of the room. The dog got to where he would get up on his own and go over to lay down in that spot should he feel the old urge rise up in him.
“He now just puts himself into a time out if he’s feeling guardy,” Mellon says.
At the same time, Butters proved to have very specific ideas as to where he felt Mellon and Biggs should sit. The way he conveyed his displeasure over positioning themselves was in perfect keeping with his overall demeanor, which beyond the guarding was so laid back and relaxed and smooth as to have joined with his coloring to earn him his name. He neither barked nor fussed.
“He would just sit in front of us, staring at us and kind of doing this really slow pant in our face,” Mellon says. “He wouldn’t move. He would just sit there and stare at you until you got up and moved where he wanted you to sit.”
During one of these Sphinx-like stares, Biggs was inspired to set a box of tissues atop the dog’s head.
“He just kind of sat there,” Biggs recalls.
Butters kept staring, stone still, the tissue box perfectly balanced. Biggs does not recall exactly what object he then added, maybe a book or a magazine. Biggs does remember very clearly something surprising.
“He loves doing it,” Biggs says.
Butters seemed to have found a unique calling.
“We’ve had a lot of dogs over the years, but this is just ridiculous,” Biggs says.
Butters’ calm and steadiness made him the perfect photo subject, and he seemed to enjoy the balancing all the more when posing. The couple began posting photos on a website, The Daily Butters. The images give a whole new meaning to the concept of show dog.
“A Butters a day keeps the blues away!” the site announced.
The site also carried this message of general philosophy and outlook:
“To all those new to Butters world, rest assured all photos and balancing acts are voluntary, no corrections or force training of any sort is ever used! In fact around here we think the idea of ‘alpha’ and ‘dominance’ theory training is antiquated. It’s all positive fun & games around here and when Butters says ‘jump’ we say “would you like pie with that?” And yes, all photos where he is holding or balancing food, he does get to eat some or all of it after the photos are taken.”
That spirit of fun is in prefect keeping with the holiday spirit, so it should be no surprise that the latest series of photos is the Twelve Days of Christmas, beginning with Butters in a pair of heels. Butters is joined in some pics by the couple’s other dog, a 3-year-old border collie named Emily they rescued from a shelter. The photos for Christmas Eve, begins with:
“On the Eleventh Day of Buttery Christmas my true love gave to me…Eleven Christmas Presents…”
And there was Butters with 11 wrapped gifts. He looks in all his photos just like Mellon and Biggs want their dogs to look always.
“He’s a very happy dog,” Mellon says,
The Twelfth Day of Christmas photo will be up on Christmas morning, a gift to everyone from folks who really know how to Ho! Ho! Ho!