It’s back to school for kids (and teachers) in local schools, but they are not alone in pursuing arduous studies. We have enrolled our two unruly dogs in obedience training, and that’s proving to be an education for all family members, on two or four legs.
Marilyn and I have always resisted such stuff. “Let dogs be dogs!” was our credo, and as long as they didn’t throw wild parties or steal one of our cars we were OK with minor lapses in canine behavior.
That all changed when we brought Grover in our home. She’s a feisty Australian shepherd; our incumbent dog is a somewhat more mellow Aussie mix. We got Grover from the animal shelter after she ran away from home on July 4, no doubt due to fireworks terror. Her owners never came to claim her, and now she’s ours, for better or worse.
She’s not a bad dog; she’s just full of energy. Marilyn and I are not yet decrepit, but her youthful verve is proving to be a challenge. Grover walks erratically; she weaves left and right like a politician running for re-election in a swing state. We’ve tripped over her more than once, and been jolted off our feet when holding her leash and she decides that the national security requires her to lunge ahead at top speed.
Now, Scout is not exactly a model of education either, although that’s mostly our fault. We’ve had her for five years now, and never even bothered to teach her the “sit” command. She knows some words, such as “no” and “drop that” and “chow” and “walk,” but she takes some of them more as suggestions rather than commands.
So we signed up with the classes at the local PetSmart store. Shanna is the teacher and we will have the second lesson on Thursday. I asked her if she could train any dog. “Does your dog like treats?” she replied. Is that a trick question? If our dogs knew of a truck driving down Magnolia full of frankfurters they would set up a roadblock and hijack it.
In fact, Grover likes treats so much she lately have been breaking into the pantry and tearing open bags of dry dog food, probably with the assistance of Scout. She leaves a mess of paper, but between the two of them they do us the courtesy of not leaving any kibble on the kitchen floor. I’d hate to think what would happen when they figure out how to use a can opener.
But even if we’re not good pet role models, Shanna is a good teacher. She’s been teaching us how to teach them. They’ve mastered “sit,” and we’re working on “watch me,” which is a civilian version of the military “attention!” We’ve turned in our 16-foot leashes for six-footers and wrapped the pups up in halters to give us more control over them.
It’s hard work, though. Aussies, especially, are smart and willful. They love you but often conclude that they have better ideas than you do, and aren’t above trying to bully-charm you into their way of life. And them being so darn cute works in their favor, too.
I hope we are up to the challenge. We are putting a lot of effort into it. In the meantime, if you hear a plaintive voice in a nearby park crying out “Heel! Sit! Leave that! Watch me! Put down the squirrel!” that will be us.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears every Wednesday, usually.