Monday, April 25, 2011

Perfect Dog Training

A few weeks ago my husband and kids were at the local farmer's market enjoying their healthy lunch ("there were bananas on my Nutella crepe, Mom!") when they ran into a neighbor with his new puppy. They came home breathless with admiration. "Ron's dog is so well trained already!" the girls clamored. "He told her to sit down, and she DID! And when he told her to stop staring at Dad's food, she did that too!"

I immediately took offense on our dog's behalf. "Achilles is a great dog," I insisted. "And so smart that he's had us trained for years."

It's true. Through consistent rewards and punishments, the dog has us carry out tricks all day long. It starts with the early wake-up call for breakfast; he only needs to do his high pitched nasal whine twice before one of the adults gets out of bed to let him out and feed him. To ignore it any longer just invites it to get louder and more persistent.

That nasal whine - maybe it's only German Shorthaired Pointers who do this?- is as effective on his people as a dog whistle is on less refined members of his species. One blast, issued from the front hall foyer, buys him entry into the backyard for a bathroom break and a nice bracing run at the squirrels. Another, wafting up the stairs at precisely 3:40 pm every day, announces that his workday is done; no more sleeping on his bed next to Mom's desk in the office, he'd like the bed moved into the family room where the children are now hanging out, and make it snappy please. At 5:55 pm the same whine is a dinner bell call telling the children to feed him.

One sharp, short bark is the cue that there is a piece of dog kibble somewhere just out of Achilles' reach - under the couch, behind a chair, on the other side of a closed door. In that instance we are trained to immediately help locate the kibble and free a path for him to pursue it; failing to do so just piles the short, sharp barks one upon the next.

The scrape of the water dish across the kitchen tiles is his cue for some biped in the house to refill said dish, or risk him heading into the bathroom for the other large ceramic water receptacle within his reach. We come running to fill the bowl and he stands, all noblesse oblige, forgiving of our lapse.

For each human family member, there was one incident, and one only, that trained us to clear the kitchen counter of every scrap of food. Mine was the famous "Corned Beef/St. Patty's Day/2009" debacle, wherein I underestimated his countersurfing reach; for my husband it was the top layer of a Christmas cake cooling on a rack that drove the lesson home. Achilles even trains visitors on this one, like our young friend Ben who has finally learned to walk with the slice of pizza over his head rather than gesticulate with it while eating at our house, or my mother in law whose punishment for not knowing the rule was a rotisserie chicken in the middle of the living room carpet.

At night, like trained circus monkeys, we move swiftly through the house flipping up couch cushions into a vertical position, and locking the door to the empty guest bedroom. The price of forgetting this daily chore is to find Achilles curled happily into a ball on the living room couch or on the guest bed in the morning, his little white and brown hairs providing additional texture and scents no one ever wanted there.
Fine, Ron's dog may be well trained. But can she make her owner hide his shoes at night?


  1. That is hysterical. Really clever perspective. Now that you mention it, my two cats, have me totally trained. Who said cats are stupid?

  2. Cats are even better. A single icy stare from our little princess, and we're doing back flips trying to discern the meaning. And woe to whomever gets it wrong...

  3. Smart dog. Our cats have has pretty well trained, but around meal times they complain about the slow service.

  4. Sorry, that's "whoever"...not "whomever". I can feel the ruler on my knuckles as we speak...

  5. There's a reason I don't have cats...given how powerless I am to resist the commands of even this simple dog, it's obvious that I'd be enslaved to a cat within hours.

  6. Actually, all the shenanigans you've described sound eerily like...our kids have us trained a little bit too...?
    But because Achilles is the charming sweetheart he is, it's easy to be at his beck and call when you can imagine him saying, "I'm thirsty - can you PLEASE get me some water?", or, "Ruh roh - if you don't let me out NOW I'm gonna poop right here on the rug." One loving glance from those brown eyes (or flip of one ear) and we're all waiting for his next nudge. Loyal and loving to a fault!

  7. Thank goodness for Man, and Woman's, best friend.

  8. That's truly the way to look at it. Pets definitely have the upper hand! LOL!

  9. Our family has had two dogs, both long lived, but then our last gallant, old soul dog, Guinevere, (yes, that was her name - we got her when we lived in England) died 2 1/2 years ago, and we've been dogless ever since. Why? We miss her - she was so soulful, and our daughters are young adults. In other words, we've enjoyed being somewhat "free." But I think we're ready to take on another kid now. Who can "train" us.


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