The Tribulations of Dog Training
Anyone who owns a dog knows the tribulations of training. An untrained dog can cause a host of problems. No, let me rephrase that . An untrained dog will always cause a host of problems. If only we had put more effort into the training when he was young, we all tell ourselves, things would would have turned out so much better.
(I ask all she-dog owners to pardon my singular use of the "he" pronoun. My dog is male and gets quite upset any time I make a "she" reference.)
Anyway, it's presumptious and factually incorrect to say that I own a dog. The raw truth is, I am owned by a dog. He gives the orders. He does as he pleases, when he pleases. And for good measure, he engages in behaviour he knows I don't like simply for the pleasure of knowing it displeases me. I get even by telling people when he's not listening that I own the dog.
When it comes to dog food, I hold a low opinion of dog food companies, vets, and anyone else who participates in the conspiracy to force our doggies to eat garbage. The only reason I make my dog eat the stuff is that our vet has browbeaten me into believing that if I don't feed it to him he will lead a miserable life and die early. I am afraid of the vet in much the same way I am afraid of the TV evangelist on Sunday mornings.
The dog in our house shares my opinion. He has developed a number of highly intelligent avoidance maneuvers to try and save himself from the rancid carrion forced on him by the dog food industry. I admire him immensely for his inventiveness.
Our number one method of getting him to eat dog food is bribery. We long ago gave up on deceit and trickery. For instance, we tried mixing in people food; he quickly learned to eat the people food and leave the dog food in the dish. I petted him for hours as a reward for that one!
Our bribery technique follows the same logic as the broccoli and dessert treachery inflicted on kids. The basic principle is that if he finishes his dog food he gets a generous helping of treats.
Our first rule was that he had to eat a certain number of pieces of dog food before getting his reward. I hand-fed him to head off the possibility of cheating on the dog's part. My intention was to try and increase the piece count over time. That failed because the dog learned to count and thereby headed off any chance of cheating on my part. He simply stopped eating once we had arrived at the required number of pieces.
Our second rule was to put a measured amount of food in his dish and withhold the reward until the dish was empty. We were quite pleased with the results until the day my wife asked me to help tidy the living room. I moved chairs and things while she vacuumed. Surprise! We found mounds of dog food under the sofa, under the ledge of the coffee table, behind the TV.... Oh yeah, I fed him nothing but treats for a week as a reward for that one!
We're still using the "withhold the reward" method and the food is disappearing from the dish. We're assuming for now that the food is going into the dog. But now and then I get a sly wink from Mr. Dog which leads me to suspect that one day soon we'll find another stash of doggie contraband in some wonderfully devious location.
Despite his many faults, my dog is conscientious about going outside to attend to dog business. That's a good thing. What's not a good thing is when he chooses to do so. If I'm watching TV, for instance, he will never ever ask to go outside during commercials. He always waits until Dr. Phil is about to whip some poor slob into a quivering mass of sobbing apologies and robs me of my opportunity for a good laugh at the patsy who had thought he could outfox Dr. Phil.
The pattern is so consistent that I've become suspicious. I've come to think, in seriously reflective moments, that he's made a deal with the local cable company and is getting kickbacks.
One of the reasons for my suspicion is that he never asks me for money. What kind of dog never asks for money? A dog who HAS money, that's what kind. Yeah, darn right I'm suspicious!
Then there's the nature of the business he attends to when he does go outside. It's common for a dog to go outside to perform the built-in biological functions. One function is liquid and requires no after-business cleanup. The other is in various grades of solid and requires swift and diligent cleanup. Failure to perform the cleanup will have definite and serious consequences, frequently of the smelly-shoe variety.
So, with cleanup being a necessesary part of the ritual, it is incumbent upon me to don my outerwear, grap a shovel and a plastic bag, and go outside with him. Being winter here in Canada, I don the outerwear for my personal comfort and safety, the shovel for shifting around yesterday's liquid business so the colour contrast between the snow and the business is less pronounced, and the plastic bag for picking up today's... you know... solids. These matters are pretty much always taken care of with no damage done to anyone... except to me who sometimes comes in a little crankier than he went out.
But the one thing I'll never understand is why he sometimes insists on going out for no reason other than to bark. It's frustrating to don one's outerwear, fetch one's shovel, and find a plastic bag (the biodegradable variety) for no discernably urgent reason. It has frustrated me for years.
Lately, though, I've found a way to amuse myself on these arduously needless treks. My dog goes outside and barks; that gives my lefternmost neighbour's dog the urge to come out and bark; which, of course, brings out the righternmost neighbour's dog to also come out and join in.
At first, the resulting cacophany did nothing but add to the misery of my already ruffled state of mind. But, being in possession of a musical nature, I thought I would try and train the dogs to howl... in three part harmony! This, of course, incurred the necessity for me to lead off in the howling. You know, to give the dogs an idea of what I expected of them.
My training methods surprisingly raised a bit of a stir in the neighbourhood. A number of the neighbours, upon hearing the dog-like sounds emanating from me, began calling the police. They apparently wanted to make sure I was uninjured and of sound mind. After six police visits over a period of six weeks I think I've finally convinced everybody there's no need to call the guys in the white lab coats.
I'm not having much success with the dogs, but last night I heard a pack of wolves in the distant hills hit a perfect triad in the key of G.
A man has to claim his victories where he finds them.