Patty Hughes is a member of my writing class. She's also affiliated with another of my pleasures, the Barnstable Comedy Club. We've both rescued and fallen in love with dogs and she's lucky (?) enough to still have hers. For all of you who have the same love......enjoy!
Let him know you’re in charge! “He thinks HE’s in charge! Take control!” So said Ryan, a flaming 20 something who gelled his hair upward into a curl on the top of his head.
That’s good advice I responded with a hint of insincerity. I’m not in charge and I know it!
I can’t lie to myself. From the moment they pulled him out of a stinky cage at the far end of that 18 wheeler, I was lost.
“Tater”, drawled the burly tattooed man. “That’s funny.” “I have a cousin named Tater.”
I was momentarily distracted by the thought of some guy in Oklahoma with an improbable name and then I took my scruffy little sweet po-tater in my arms and he gazed meekly at me with those soft innocent brown eyes fringed with white lashes. From that first giddy moment, I knew with a certainty, that I was not in charge and that I would spend the rest of my days devoted to his doggy desires.
After a few days the trouble began. Left home alone, he got into trouble with the wood pile. He was positively contrite when I returned. If his little cropped tail could have been between his short stubby legs, it would have been. I hurried to reassure him that I was looking forward to vacuuming the entire house anyway and not to fret about it. Cookies kisses and hugs followed.
Next it was the toilet paper roll, ripped from its holder and torn and shred in some mad rampage room to room. I ran for the camera. He posed nonchalantly amidst a cloud of white tissue. “You’re a bad bad boy!’ I cooed adoringly.
He chewed the bottom of a folding screen …nothing a file and a little paint couldn’t fix; a plant stand, the arm of a wicker sofa… He took a bite out of a hymnal…as if it were an apple.
I started taking him with me everywhere I went.- just to be safe, but leaving him in the car had its own perils. He got hold of a pen. He had a new spot and it was blue. My prescription sunglasses were mistaken for a chew toy.
One night I let him outside with the half-hearted suggestion that he “get busy”. My Christmas lights went black..
One snow boot lost its sole; the computer power cord was severed. I was worried. The problem was escalating.
In desperation, I convinced my bachelor neighbor that the dog thought of him as “Uncle Jim”. He bought it. - Tater went down the street to watch the Super Bowl, but not before I lost a leather boot, my pocketbook strap and a sneaker. When I went to get him, he was out cold, glutted with Cheese Doodles and Dorito chips, his little freckled tummy full to bursting with forgotten food from the kitchen floor.
My outdoor garden bench took a hit, a Feng Shui manual called “Move Your Stuff Change Your Life” appeared in the back yard,- sending me a cryptic message , an entire bag of curtains was dragged from a bedroom closet and deposited in a different room. He’s redecorating! I joked.
The keyboard foot pedal, it’s power cord and an extension cord became defunct . Guess he doesn’t like music, I quipped. “You’re a BAD DOG, yes you are, a BAD Doggie, yes you are ! Yes you are!” He flopped onto his back and began to wiggle.
He got tangled up in a roll of duct tape. One foot stuck to the floor when he walked.
The breaking point arrived the day he charged past me out the door and I dove under a UPS truck to save his life. I experienced an epiphany as I lay there on the ground, holding my shattered leg. My rescue dog has “issues“.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step. So,
I signed him up for an obedience class, the dog equivalent of a 12-step program.
There were 6 exasperated, fed-up and worn out people sitting in a circle with their problematic dogs . Ryan, the instructor, in gabby girlfriend style said, “Lets’ go ‘round and introduce ourselves and tell us why you’re here.”
“Hello, my name is Bill,” Bill shouted to be heard above his barking dog…“and this is Rusty.” “Rusty barks at everything.” Ryan jammed a toy into Rusty’s mouth.
“Hi, my name is Ellen,” a very apologetic Ellen announced, “and this is Coco.” Ellen sat a little apart. “Coco hates other dogs.” A tiny snarling mop of hair peered out from under Ellen’s chair. Certainly Tater’s occasional incontinence wasn’t as bad as Jane and Frank’s pooping poodle!
When my turn came I panicked wondering which bad habit to announce. “Tater chews things”. I said stoically.
Meanwhile, As Tater strained at his leash to grab Rusty’s discarded toy and investigate the reclusive Coco, an overzealous pit-bull puppy knocked him over and pinned him down. Ryan gave a rousing command and 6 obedient adults stood and practiced using a clicker in one hand while holding a leash and silently offering a treat to their bewildered pets with the other.
Our dogs, waiting patiently for us to master the awkward routine, got tired and sat down to wait it out . To all appearances, our dogs had mastered the first lesson - ‘SIT” But, in truth, they were confused by the strange sound emanating from 6 clickers simultaneously, the invention of some marketing genius no doubt, but the treats were good and plenty. In our hands we held our last hope and clicked a little SOS message to our respective dogs. Swatting and yelling hadn’t worked; maybe communicating with our pets in the aboriginal language of the Masai is what they needed.
I was so proud the first time Tater “SAT”. I began to show off a little as I had already taught Tater at home how to “sit UP.” I received a commanding “NO’, from Ryan but fortunately not with a rolled newspaper. I learned that Ryan is “in charge.” That’s called “sitting PRETTY” he explained in his Chatty Kathy style. He has to “SIT”.
After that we learned the cardinal rule of potty training. There was a solemn hush when Ryan revealed the secret, “Never let them see you clean it up!” after a thoughtful silence I raised my hand, tilted my head to one side, - an attention getting trick I had learned from my dog. - and asked “WHAT?”
The explanation was lost on me as I tried to get into the mind of my sub-equatorial speaking dog. Had Tater seen me take apart the vacuum and scrub all it’s moving parts after encountering a surprise on the Oriental carpet? Was that the problem? Was I to blame?
“Never punish your dog after the fact” “You have to catch them in the act.”
I feigned sleep that night holding a flashlight under the covers waiting for Tater to make his move. Sometime around 2, groggy from sleep he dropped off the bed and waddled quietly from the room. Like a commando I leapt from the bed and caught him with my flashlight in a telltale crouch. “NO” I said, and I kinda meant it, and to my surprise, he complied. I’ve been a light sleeper ever since.
I suspect Tater’s hiding something from me though. Learning to SIT was all a little too easy. He wore a bored “been there, done that” sort of expression, like my friend Jim wears at every social function that reads , I‘m just here for the food.
I like Ryan’s gabby girlfriend style though and I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this “taking charge” thing and being “in control.” In the meantime, I bought a kennel to lock him up, just in case.
There’s just one big problem as I see it. The damn dog is diabolically cute! Today he “SAT” without the aid of a foreign language and “DROPPED” a paper towel he had retrieved from the trash. He’s very smart! We haven’t even covered FETCH and DROP yet! And,… to top it off, under all that curly white hair,… he’s pink!