Those Dog Days of Summer
There’s a certain type of envy that kicks in with me especially on these near-perfect summer days we’ve been experiencing lately. And it doesn’t even have anything to do with the multitude of bare midriffs everywhere. Sure I might be envious of those, but this muffin top bearer knows that’s a whole ‘nother problem and not worth the lamenting.
My jealousy involves something that ought to be far more within my ability to control: dogs. More specifically those perfect dogs that walk alongside their owners with nothing more than a loose—never taut—leash, sometimes even no leash. Grrrr (excuse my speaking in dog tongue there). The worst of all are those Stepford dogs that peacefully accompany their keepers at adorable little outdoor cafes. They don’t bark, they don’t growl, they don’t mooch, they don’t sniff the crotches of passersby; basically, they don’t act annoying. They come in, lie down, and mind their own business while their person enjoys a lovely outdoor meal, unencumbered by dog-like behavior. These dogs are sort of the Barbie dolls of the canine kingdom, and I’m sick of them.
Now I’ve owned all sorts of pets over the years, and had mixed results in the behavior department with them all. Suffice it to say no one would accuse me of being a dog whisperer. Dog hollerer is more like it. But I’ve given it my best. Ironically cats, the domesticated creature least likely to cooperate, have been the pets most likely to comply with me. So bring on the cats, thank you.
Our first dog, a Labrador retriever, should have been perfect. I grew up with Labs and while it wasn’t my job to train our dogs, they seemed to me to be quite well-behaved, so I guess I figured it was innate for dogs to do what you want them to. Although in hindsight they did once attack the mailman, who my dad had to placate with a fifth of Jack Daniels, so maybe I’m operating on revisionist history where they’re concerned. Nevertheless, determined to have a well-trained dog, my husband and I took our Lab, Beau, to obedience school as soon as her age permitted. On paper, the dog was a superstar: heeling on cue, sitting, staying, and never acting out of line, not once. She even won the best dog award at the end of the session. We have a certificate to prove it.
But at home, her dark side reared its ugly head. It was as if she’d saved all her good for the teacher, reserving her bad for her parents. So like a child. She’d tug with a vengeance on her leash when we walked her. If another dog hazarded by, she was right up on him, never in a mean way but always in a dislocate-the-dog-walker’s shoulder way. At night she invariable bolted to the top of our steep back yard and howled, unwilling to come when called, and inevitably displeasing our lovely neighbors with the ceaseless twilight bark. One night she barked till midnight at a possum playing dead, which promptly sprayed her with noxious possum aroma, leaving us to fumigate the dog well into the wee hours.
Our next dog, Bridget, well, I’ve told you how I had to lure her inside at 2 a.m. by grilling hot dogs and then dangling them in front of her ill-behaved mug. This after she bolted from my house while I carried out trash at 11 at night, and proceeded to bark for three hours while I attempted to chase/lure/persuade the thing. That was one of her better-behaved episodes.
Yeah, we’d taken Bridget–more closely related to the wild dingo than to a domesticated dog to begin with–to classes as well. Even had her behaving like a near-champ with the clicker—a technique known to work even on feral cats and Las Vegas tiger acts. Sure, Bridget behaved on command with the clicker and a healthy dose of liver snacks. When it was in her best interest. Otherwise? Nada. Maybe we’d have been better off with a tiger rather than a dingo.
Cue Sassy, another Labrador, who we got a couple of years later. Sassy, too, was brilliant at dog classes. And like most Labs, obsessed with food enough to generally behave in response to bribes of the stuff. But never on a leash. And never in a café. At best at an outdoor dining venue she’ll wind herself around the legs of the chair and table pedestal, entangling all diners and choking herself. At worst, she’s a master at snatching food from tongue-level tabletops.
Dog commandments clearly are optional, according to my dogs, and I’ve abandoned hope of taking a summertime stroll with my cooperative pooches, side by side, with nary a tug. It’s just not meant to be. Breaking bread with the beasts in Belmont? Not gonna happen, I have finally concluded.
Just so you know, we clearly tend to be equal opportunity patsies where our pets are concerned. I’ll save all the gory details about my non-compliant parrot for another day. Suffice it to say there’s enough material there for a book.