Thursday, October 20, 2005

CAVE CANUM Part II - DOG DAY AFTERNOON

[If you are arriving for the first time, you might want go back to Cave Canem Part I – The Bitch Is Back to see how we got here.]

So, Monday afternoon, I told my friend to have Ursula in her Gentle Leader restraint when I came to pick her up. In case you think we have just crossed into stiletto boots and studded paddles territory, let me explain that the Gentle Leader is a harness which attaches over a dog’s snout instead of around the neck. It works especially well with dogs that resist leash commands without causing them unnecessary pain and I recommend it highly.

The door opened and Ursula, having seen me through the front window, went to leap in joyful greeting -- aiming straight for my collarbone. I took her leash quickly, snapped it sharply and barked “SIT!”

She blinked in confusion, went back on her hind legs and attempted to lead me in a waltz again.

SIT!” This time even sharper and meaner.

She froze. I pressed her backside down. She sat.

I sang out merrily, “Good sit!”

My voice had shifted from a sadistic Marine drill instructor to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Hearing a sweet tone, Ursula made for my shoulders again.

SIT!”

I pressed her backside down. She sat.

“Good sit!”

The rapid-fire toggle between my tone before the sit (Full Metal Jacket) and after the sit (Mister Roger’s Neighborhood) would have alarmed any reasonably alert psychologist. As it was, we hadn’t even left the front porch and this sweet overgrown puppy was already bewildered. We said a quick goodbye to her old family, and they shut the door. Ursula looked up at me with something approaching hope.

“Come, Ursula.”

She leapt like Pegasus towards the front gate. I grabbed her by the collar.

SIT!”

We composed ourselves.

“Come, Ur…SIT!”

I grabbed her by the muzzle, looked deeply into her eyes and growled sharply. I don’t suggest this was my Christmas card picture, but it worked. She sat stock still, whining softly in confusion. This was nowhere near as much fun as chewing shoes.

We started off again, Ursula walking meekly beside me. We made it all the way to their gate -- a distance of about five yards -- when it occurred to Ursula: “Why, if I could just take this unspeakable thing off my snout, I could run as I please and show the world what a broad-shouldered dog with bad manners can really do!”

She flung herself against the gate, attempting to work the muzzle off by rubbing her nose against the hinge. I grabbed her by the collar in an attempt to get her forelegs up.

SIT!”

Seen from the outside, I’m sure it appeared I was trying to lynch her.

The El Greco clouds, until then patchy and benign, thickened noiselessly overhead.

I finally got her back into sit and while she pouted, I plotted. A full “Heel” position (Dog’s right shoulder at your left hip, keeping pace with you while walking) might be more than she was capable of on her first walk. I decided to go for “Walk”, which would be dog at my left side, slightly behind me, on a loose leash. This was all theoretical, as “Heel” and “Walk” both imply going more than seven inches at a time.

“Ursula, WALK!”

We stepped out of the gate. Ursula leapt ahead of me, as expected. What I did must have entertained anyone who happened to look out of their window.

You can’t leash-train a dog by dragging on it because all you teach it is that the human has this weird love of randomly compressing its trachea. You have to either stop walking entirely until they happen to look up at you, to see if you died, and then start the walk again at your pace. Or, you can walk quickly in a circle, using their forward momentum to neatly place them behind you.

So, I walked in a circle. Ursula ended up at my left side, a couple of inches behind me.

“Ursula, WALK!”

I began to notice how my dog-encouraging voice sounds like Mary Poppins.

Ursula took two steps in the correct position. Then she saw a leaf and hurtled forward.

SIT!”

She was now officially miserable. Inconsistent-Yet-Fun Parents were long gone and she appeared to be left with Evil Psycho Stepmother. She lay down and sighed, nose between her paws. A fat drop of rain hit the ground. I tugged her back into a sitting position.

“Ursula, WALK!”

We almost made it to the next house this time before a raindrop on her back caused her to lose focus. We trudged in another tight circle and reestablished equilibrium.

We got another five feet before she decided to make a break for it, just for old time’s sake.

SIT!”

The good news was that she was sitting without my having to push her back down anymore. The bad news was that she wouldn’t put her butt all the way on the wet ground, so it was less “Sit”, more “Hover”.

“Ursula, WALK!”

Ursula leapt away from the wet ground in relief.

SIT!

She sat, her whole body language radiating misery. I looked at her in sympathy. I have no idea what she went through before she met us, but the last three months of her life have been nothing but disruption, change, and pain. I may be the longest constant in her life, and here I am yelling at her like a gin-addled fishwife. It’s all in order to save her life, but she didn’t know that. It was raining steadily now and I leaned over and rubbed her ear.

She took this as a sign that this obeying silliness was over, and that we could be ballroom dancing partners again.

SIT!”

The very instant after I yelled, there was a rumble of thunder so deep and resonant I felt it in my sternum. The dog stayed in sit, but stared up at the sky in absolute terror. I was yelling at her and now God was yelling at her. This was by definition a bad dog day.

We squelched onwards. Either she was learning the basic rules of “Walk” or the by-now torrential rain sapped her of her fight. It was certainly draining away mine. I have new respect for anyone who trains dogs in Scotland.

She and I walked two whole blocks this way; it took an hour and a half. I popped her into my car, where we spent another twenty minutes confirming that I didn’t want her to drive, thank you. Then I brought her home…

Tomorrow: my dog and cat meet their houseguest. Virtually no one is pleased.

[PART III - Night Of The Jackal]

2 Comments:

Anonymous Cathy said...

Ursula belonged to me in a previous life! In that life she was a Blue Doberman named Gracie, and she was absolutely convinced that she was a Tea Cup Poodle. She never really believed she was a big dog, she just humored me.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

You rock.

10:30 PM  

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