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Can a Dog Train Its Owner?

Updated on September 8, 2020
drmiddlebrook profile image

Former university professor of marketing and communications, Sallie is an independent publisher and marketing communications consultant.

Funny-looking dog teaches owners how to love him--looks and all!

Barney came to live with my 10 year-old nephew and his family as a "replacement doggie." That means he was brought in as a replacement for a beloved family pet that had passed away. I've enjoyed getting to know Barney, even though I'm only his "aunt." I live near Houston, and Barney lives near Dallas with my nephew, my sister, and her husband. They are a very happy family, and they love dogs. That is, my sister and my nephew love dogs unconditionally, but I think her husband simply tolerates them.

To me, as a family they seem to work as a team. The husband, good-spirited and loving guy that he is, I think tolerates dogs because my sister and their son love dogs. That means the family will probably always have a dog, and so, as the dad of the family "team," he simply wants to be a good team player. So, he puts up with Barney.

Barney came to the family in an interesting way, but before I get too far into talking about him, I first need to tell you about his predecessor. Before Barney came to be, our whole family had recently suffered the loss of my sister’s first beloved family pet, Rupert. Rupert was like a canine nephew to me, and he was an important and beloved member of our family. He was my sister’s dog that her husband had given to her as a gift about nine or ten years b.b. (before Barney).

A Dog Trainer's Dream ...

For nine years, Rupert was the best dog in the world, bar none. He was so cute his face literally looked like that of a golden-brown teddy bear. He was a mixed breed, a Chow/Lhasa Apso mix, and in terms of looks, he was most definitely one-of-a-kind. Anywhere he went with his family, he got oh’s and ah’s, and questions about what kind of dog he was. He seemed to revel in the comments, as if it felt good to know he was unique—beautiful and different. I think his tail wagged a little more and a little higher than usual whenever someone offered his owners a compliment about him. And he was a smart, smart dog. It seemed that no matter what you said to him, that he understood fully what you were talking about.

Whenever I talked to Rupert about my troubles, it felt very nearly as though I was talking to a person; a person who listened and empathized, always sending out sympathetic sparkles with his eyes to show concern for your plight. And he always listened in silence. Like a loyal and trusted, but silent friend, he never ventured any type of comment on what I said to him, probably fearing he might say the wrong thing. But it was understood between the two of us that his eyes were conveying all he wished he could say.

Anytime you needed him to be there for you, Rupert's care and concern for you and whatever you were going through was always given lovingly and freely. Rupert made you feel like he had your back. As you talked to him, he’d lay his big head on your knee if you were sitting down, or on your feet if you were standing. In other words, he possessed a really good understanding of what it meant to be “man’s best friend.”

Rupert was a loyal, trusting, and well trained beauty. And he took pride in his looks. Whenever he came home from the groomer, he'd prance when my sister would sing to him his special song, "pretty doggie" (to the tune of "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison). And even though his relationship with my brother-in-law was often a rocky one, that man was able to get that dog to do anything he asked.

Rupert loved and wanted to please the man I’m sure he looked up to as “Master of the House,” so my brother-in-law used that “respect” with great success. He taught Rupert to do all the standard doggie tricks with great pride, including: Fetch, roll over, paw/handshake, speak (in either indoor or outdoor voice), sit, beg, don’t beg, the whole repertoire. Rupert also learned and respected the areas of their home that he was allowed into. If he was told to confine himself to a runner-type rug and not venture beyond it, like a little soldier, he’d walk up and down and around on it as much as he wanted, but by gosh, he’d stay put. Solidly house-trained, he would probably rather have his bladder burst than go in the house if someone got delayed in taking him out.

A Dog Trainer's Nightmare ...

And with that, I’m going to segue madly into Barney’s tale. Seguing madly is the only way to tell you about Barney, a little doggie that is very nearly the opposite of Rupert.

After Rupert developed diabetes and passed away, my sister almost decided not to get another pet. The loss of a near-perfect pet is always hard, and I think deep down inside our whole family felt since there was no possible way Rupert could ever be replaced, what would be point of getting another dog? But my only-child nephew, around 7 years-old at the time, was lonely without his friend Rupert. The family decided together that they would wait a while before even thinking about getting another pet. But my sister, inspired by the love for her one and only child, decided one day to become involved in a program that allowed people to spend time with dogs. The program was sort of like a “foster-care” arrangement for unwanted animals.

That’s how Barney came to their house to visit. Barney is a little black haired mix breed. He is a Brussels Griffon mixed with other stuff, like Rat Terrier, and I think, maybe even with rat. When he first came to visit, it was sort of on a temporary basis. But of course, my little nephew fell in love with the “jumping doggie.” You see, Barney, when he gets excited, he jumps. I’m not talking about a cute little hoppity-hop like what a lot of dogs do when they’re happy or excited. No. I’m talking about a “What-are-trying to compete-in- the-Olympics?” type of jump. He jumps so high and so fast, it looks like he’s bouncing on an invisible trampoline. And that’s not all.

A Could Ya, Would Ya Poll

Do you think you could love a doggie as "unlovable" as Barney?

See results

Barney, Barney ... Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo!

Barney, it turns out, is just about un-train-able. He’s not dumb, he’s just stubborn and independent. He only does what he wants to do, and usually, what that is, is the exact opposite of what you want him to do. If he goes near and seems to be getting ready to jump up on the sofa, and you say, “Stay off the sofa, Barney!” Barney suddenly can think of no better place to be than on that sofa. Belt out a command like, “Sit, Barney!” and it will seem that even if he felt like sitting before, well now that you want him to do it, he’s gonna stand up and run around. And as for grooming? The dog has been banned from the groomers! He is so unruly and bouncy, the last time he went, when it was over, the groomer said they were sorry, but in the interest of keeping him from getting hurt, they would not be able to groom him again.

A scraggly-looking little thing, he has a countenance that only his true family could love. And now that he’s been with my sister and her family for going on three years now, I guess we all know he has found his true family. On special occasions, he wears cute little outfits for my sister (he seems to accept that he’s a second child stand in, and even though he looks ridiculous in the outfits, he loves my sister more than life itself, so he puts up with it—for her). His jumping is not nearly as high as it once was, but he still jumps.

Barney and his antics have grown on all of us. He’s a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the family now, and has become a much loved, very adored pet. And he is always into something. Reluctantly, he obeys the “Master of the House,” but he doesn’t do it willingly. And although he knows he’s not allowed to show affection toward my brother-in-law (meaning he can’t lick his face!), every now and then when his adoration of the Master reaches a fever pitch, Barney will do a “fly by licking!” He’ll take off running as fast as he can, then jump real high while giving my brother-in-law a big wet lick on his face! It’s the funniest show of “tough love” you could ever imagine.

Barney has made it quite clear to everyone concerned that he, most assuredly, did not come to town to try to replace Rupert. In fact, it seems to be his mission in life to make sure that he does just the opposite of what Rupert did, whether it’s something good, or something bad. Mostly bad. Even though Barney is house-trained, on a recent visit to my home, he showed me that whenever I forget and call him “Rupert,” that he is indeed, not Rupert, nor is he a Rupert replacement. Remember what I told you about Rupert and his bladder? Well, check out the video below. This little "Barney boo boo" happened on one of his most “memorable” visits to my home.

Barney's Boo Boo

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD


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