Every dog I’ve ever had learned about skunks the hard way — and in its own time. Dinah, the current young one, reached her time a few nights ago. She’s the black dog on the right, below.

I hadn’t been asleep long when the brouhaha began the first night. I awakened to the faint, but distinctive smell of skunk seeping into the house. I considered whether I might just be dreaming and rolled over, adjusted my pillow, and breathed shallowly, just in case. Then the barking began. I lay quietly, listening as I often do to the individual voices of the three farmcollies on duty outside that night. I heard Ralphie out front, say a low word or two on the subject. Bebe, who’s looking unhappy on the left in the picture, was at the side of the house, and she didn’t have a lot to say. The pup, however, couldn’t shut up.

I listened a moment longer and surmised that the pup, Dinah, had the skunk cornered out behind the barn. She sounded proud and was barking ‘tree’ (aka ‘got it’) so well – and this from a pup that’s been naturally inclined to silence. (The other dogs had spent months to teach her to bark an alarm.) After a while, I decided it might be wise to verify my deductions. So I hauled myself out of bed, grabbed a flashlight, and headed for the back door.

Bebe joined me on the back porch. Clearly she had no intention of joining the skunk party. Blue, the Aussie, wouldn’t come out of the house, and Ralphie stayed well away on the opposite side of the building. Every so often the older dogs would give a low-keyed bark. I’m not sure if they were encouraging from a safe distance or telling the pup to knock it off and stop being an idiot. And there was that smell — you know which, the smell that means a skunk’s around but hasn’t squirted yet. I figured that this was one party that had to run its course. Dinah would learn her lesson, and then she’d know to hang back unless there was a really good reason to tangle.

Apparently she learned. The next morning, I first thought she hadn’t taken a direct hit of skunk spray because the smell didn’t seem that strong. A few minutes later, my eyes were watering, my previously clogged sinuses were pretty well cleared out from the fumes and – wow, the pup definitely took a direct hit on the hindquarters. Oh my.

After a few days, during which there was much rolling and rubbing in the leaves, the smell faded. Then it happened again. Last night, after all the lights were out, the stink seeped into the house again, and I knew the skunk was passing through, on its way to trouble. A moment later, the pup sounded off in a distinctive bark I now recognize as her skunk alert. I rolled over, adjusted my pillow, and went back to sleep, knowing the dogs were on the job and would deter the skunk from any serious mischief in the barn — and that the pup would get another lesson in skunk management.

She did. And this time she took a direct hit to the face.

To reward her bravery in battle, I hold my breath, rub her snout and forehead, and tell her what a good dog she is. Then I wash my hands. A lot. With good Lemon-scented dishsoap. And rinse with vinegar. Then wash again with the dishsoap. And repeat until the stench is gone. If it were summer, I’d give her a bath with my favorite deskunking formula, but it’d take too long to dry her. Besides, she’ll probably just tangle with the skunk again – maybe even tonight. This time of year, skunks are oddly persistent.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website, skunks aren’t true hibernating animals. They hang out in their dens and sleep a lot in winter, but they still have to eat. They forage at night, in fields, woods . . . and barns. Sigh.