"I get the message," I said. "Too much TV. So let's go somewhere."
He barked four times. So what else could he mean but one of each?
With the summer travel season looming, Darby and I hit the road to test some popular destinations for their dog-friendliness. Some places, such as Big Bear Lake, put out the doggy welcome mat; others — Las Vegas springs to mind — weren't quite as warm, at least, in their reception. But vacationing with your canine pal is still possible, even at difficult destinations, if you plan.
So pack Rover's toys and leash and jump in the car. Then join us on our excellent summer vacation.
We waited nervously outside the arena while a couple of maniacal Australian sheepdogs and a collie took turns herding four sheep into a tight circle.
Then it was our turn. Would Darby run from the sheep and embarrass both of us? Hard to say. Wheaten terriers aren't exactly known for their herding skills. But I figured if Babe the Pig could do it, Darby could too.
We had come to this ranch on top of a Malibu mountain to have some fun and try herding, the nation's fastest-growing dog sport. Janna Duncan, who operates Drummond Ranch ( 361-3188, http://www.drummondranch.net), specializes in testing and training dogs to herd.
Finally, she gave us the OK to go into the ring. Darby immediately became entranced with the smells — dirt and manure — and didn't notice the sheep at first. Then he suddenly looked up, saw what he probably thought were gigantic dogs, screeched to a halt and trotted in the opposite direction.
Duncan told me to pet the sheep so Darby could tell they were gentle and to call him to me. He walked slowly in my direction, unsure of himself. Then Duncan asked an Aussie named Murphy to join Darby in the ring. Murphy made short work of it, quickly herding the sheep. Midway through, Darby joined in, slowly at first, then gathering steam. After he finished, he trotted over to me for a hug and an atta-boy.
We celebrated afterward at CooGie's, a patio restaurant in Malibu. It's a great spot to see celebs with munchkin dogs in their laps.
We didn't spend the night in Malibu because the accommodations that accept pets are ultraexpensive. Instead, we hustled north on Pacific Coast Highway to Port Hueneme, 17 miles from the herding ranch, where I found affordable prices at Country Inns & Suites.
A bonus: Many Ventura County beaches allow dogs. So we played at Port Hueneme Beach Park, a short walk from our hotel, and at Sycamore Cove beach, which offers shade, a sparse commodity at most beaches.
On another day, I would have been thrilled with the beach play. But not this weekend. Not when my dog had earned his stripes as a sheep herder.
With his snout encased in a muzzle, Darby appeared almost vicious, like a refugee from a "Dogs Gone Wild" video.
"I'm sorry, buddy," I said. "You have to wear this until we get to Santa Catalina Island. That's the rule."