Time for a dog update. I say dog because our puppy, Gary, morphed into a gangly adolescent, seemingly overnight. He also morphed from a border collie into something else—at 5 months old, he seems to have the legs of a full-grown Great Dane and the body of a husky. He’s like a furry pygmy giraffe. I hope he grows out of it. I mean, we all had our awkward phase, but I wasn’t really looking for a sled dog who can clean my gutters.
Whatever he is, though, he’s well-trained. Or at least, better trained than any other dog we’ve ever had. And that’s because we recruited a police officer named Robert to instill some discipline in the wild Gary. The first thing Robert taught us is that basically everything we’ve ever done with our dogs was wrong.
For instance, if our dogs barked outside, I’d let them in so they’d stop barking. Wrong. “When you do that, you’re teaching the dog that he gets what he wants when he barks,” Robert said. The correct thing to do is to wait until he stops barking, and then let him in. You wait until the dog shows good behavior and then you give a reward. This requires a certain amount of Zen in the face of outrageous canine freakouts.
I’ve never been good at that. Our older dog, a basset-lab named Dino, flips out when he knows he’s going for a walk. So I try to attach the leash as quickly as possible and get him out the door while a fusillade of bark-propelled breath-bombs curl the hair off my head and he squirms around in unbearable anticipation of this glorious, unbelievable adventure that’s about to unfold. Which is to say, walking out the driveway and peeing on our mailbox.
Per Robert’s instructions, I tried waiting for Dino to stop barking before putting on the leash, but it turns out that he just never stops barking. He’s like the doped-up Lance Armstrong of barking, his stamina absolute. So I just wrestle the leash onto his collar and get on with it. Dino’s 10 years old, so I think we missed the window on obedience training. And with him, that window was probably June 6, 2009, at 1-3 pm.
Gary, though, is a blank slate, not yet ruined by our complacency. Perhaps you know a dog or two who goes bonkers at the sound of a doorbell? Well, not Gary. Within about two hours, Robert trained Gary to go sit on his bed in the corner of the living room when the doorbell rings. “Place, Gary,” we’ll say, and Gary will race over and perch on the edge of his bed, clearly dying to go see who’s at the door but determined to follow the rules. Meanwhile, Dino observes Gary go to his bed and get rewarded with snacks, thus prompting him to reach the logical conclusion: I should stand here by the door, barking at 120 decibels. Somebody has to.
Gary, despite his youth, is clearly the brains of this operation. Which is why it was so strange when he started pooping in the house overnight. Both dogs sleep in the living room because Dino’s snoring is only slightly less loud than his barking. Gary, having seemingly mastered housebreaking, stays out there with him. But one morning we discovered cold dog logs under the dining room table. My wife, Heather, dragged Gary over and scolded him for his crime. But the next morning: same thing. This wasn’t an accident. This was a message.
We had to do something, so we decided that Gary would sleep in the bedroom with us. That way we’d hear him whine to go out. The night passed uneventfully, Gary with us and Dino sounding like a sawmill out in the living room. Gary slept through the night and didn’t poop in our bedroom. Problem solved.
Or so we thought. When Heather walked out into the kitchen the next morning, her jaw dropped and she silently pointed toward the dining room: There, in the customary spot, were fresh turds. It was Dino all along. Gary was framed.
We were mad at Dino, sure, but also a little bit impressed. Dino’s never pooped in the house before, and he chose to start doing it in such a way that we’d think it was the puppy, the one getting all the attention for being so smart and well-behaved. He overplayed his hand, but I have to think ol’ Dino was snickering as Gary got his nose shoved in someone else’s poop. It was the perfect crime.
Perhaps Dino is a little sharper than I give him credit for. Or maybe he’s just lazy. Either way, it appears our dog training sessions with Robert won’t be wrapping up any time soon, and Dino is back in our bedroom so he can’t escape to his midnight poop spot. You know, Cesar Millan always used to say that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. I have plenty of time to reflect on that as I try to fall asleep with Dino snoring away down there on the floor next to me. Right where he wanted to be all along. ◆
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