Monday, October 29, 2007

Dogged Devotion.

(In case you are new, this is Part Four of a mini-series. It's really not going to make any sense without the first part, Pet Project. If you choose to continue to read anyway, don't say I didn't warn you.)

So, the dog. I can say with certainty that not only was former-owner Jerk a male genital, he was an idiot. This dog lives to be easy. He is house-trained and he is crate-trained, if a bit grumbly about it. He let me wash and groom his paws, which is good because one of us is a little furry and likes walking through unspeakable things. He lets people take his food away from him. A toddler offered the dog a cookie, and I leapt in quickly, because not only would our last dog Polly have eaten the cookie, she would have take the arm up to the shoulder, just to make sure she wasn’t missing out on any crumbs. This dog, however, considered the cookie for a few seconds, took it gently from the child’s hand and ate it with a delicacy you associate with your better class of debutantes. He adores children; the finest visual he has given me so far was when we took him over to meet friends of Daughter’s, and he spent a late-afternoon chasing and being chased by six shrieking children. His grin wrapped around his head.

This is not to say that he’s perfect. He is a bit stubborn, which I understand and accept. I’m stubborn, Consort is stubborn, Daughter is stubborn; we’re a household full of people who just know things would go better if you would only do what I say. I’ve had dogs that were aggressively stubborn, I’ve had dogs that were sneakily stubborn, I know how to deal with those. This one, though, is cheerfully stubborn. The best analogy I can come up with is when a friend-of-a-friend got a job at a big-box electronics store. His job-training manual advised him to “Consider the word ‘No’ as a request for more information.” Besides giving you some sense of why men in clip-on ties follow you through the media department, extolling the virtues of a plasma TV, this does give you the feeling of what it’s like to remonstrate the dog:

(Monday, 10 a.m. The dog is on the couch. Quinn walks into the room and sees the dog on the couch.)


DOG: What?

(Quinn grabs dog by the collar, pulls him off, while saying “OFF!” firmly.)

DOG: Well, what was that all about?

QUINN: We don’t have dogs on couches around here. Here’s your bed. It’s made of 73% recycled material. It’s soft and spongy.

DOG: Oh, this is lovely. Thanks for the heads-up on the “No-couch” thing.

QUINN: Hey, no problem.

(Monday. 10:15 a.m. Quinn comes out from the office to find the dog on the couch.)


DOG: Huh?


(Quinn grabs dog by the collar, pulls him off.)

DOG: Still?

QUINN: Not still. Always.

DOG: Really? Because I could have sworn you said I could be on the couch right about…now.


DOG: Okay, I guess there was a misunderstanding. I’ll just sit here on the dog-bed until you go back to work.

QUINN: All…right.

(Quinn walks into office, and then quietly pokes her head out. As soon as Quinn leaves the room, the dog darts back to the couch. As he puts his front paws on it…)


DOG: This is news to me.

Days of this, I tell you. He’s like some kind of canine-martial artist, using my own desire for dog hair-free furniture against me. But he has me mistaken for someone who hasn’t been trained by the sensei of cheerful badgering, Daughter. I got through a year of “All the other girls got the Bratz bordello, why can’t I?” without caving in; I’ll keep this dog off the couch.

The cat, however, was going to take to drink. I thought about writing about her experience from her point of view, at Judy’s marvelous suggestion, but decided not to, as it would be impossible to do and maintain my rule of working clean.

The first week, since I had no knowledge of his history with cats, I had to assume he might have murderous impulses. I made absolutely certain the cat and dog were never together. This wasn’t helped by us being in the fortnight a year where Lulabelle, owing to being a black cat, isn’t allowed to go outside. They were trapped inside the house together, but could never be allowed to see one another. This was the show “Big Brother”, as constructed by the Witness Protection Service.

All of Lulabelle’s day was to be spent in Daughter’s room, unless we were home, at which point we’d shut the door from the bedrooms into the rest of the house and she could have the run of the bedrooms and bathrooms. The dog could have the rest of the house. Of course, this meant both of them spent nearly all their time at the door separating them, sniffing deeply. The cat’s hair didn’t un-puff for a week. Slowly, with tons of security, a tight leash and multiple escape possibilities for the cat, I allowed them to see one another.

By week two, the cat and I were starting to suspect he didn’t mean her any harm. If anything, his enthusiasm for her resembled less “Predator and prey”, and more “Pre-pubescent girl and Hannah Montana”. The very sight of Lulabelle’s tail, swishing around the corner into Daughter’s room, would send the dog into barking raptures and whirling in circles. The few times he actually made eye-contact with her, he threw himself into the play-position; butt up in the air, tail spinning dervishly. Had the cat a concert, the dog would have paid any amount of money to see the show and wear the t-shirt. The cat, having gotten over her initial fear, settled deeply into contempt; if he wasn’t going to kill her, she seemed to think, then he needed training. She’s very good at dog-training, but I don’t think the Monks of New Skete or Cesar Milan should be worried about this up-and-comer quite yet, because her training is based on the simple idea that a cat’s nail, when inserted into a dog’s nose, gets his attention. This is her answer to nearly everything the dog does.

Run at the cat and invite her to play? Get a nail in the nose.

Decide to sit up on your hind legs and watch her eat her dinner on the drier? Get a nail in the nose.

Having seen the cat jump up on the couch, realize you can get really comfortable and cuddle with your new best friend? Nail, meet nose, while someone shouts “Off!” at you.

The whole week of training can be summed up by the sound of dog nails clicking against the floor, then the sound of a hiss, then the sound of a dog yipping, and then the sound of dog nails clicking off in the other direction. I added my part by shouting “Leave it!” whenever he would start to drift towards her, which might have helped the training, or it might have just increased the volume in the house. I suspect the carefully inserted nail-of-negative-reinforcement did more than any phrase ever could.

We’re now three weeks’ into the process. Last night, I caught them both hanging out in the hallway watching Daughter brush her teeth, ignoring one another. Still, about once a day, the dog looks over and thinks “Cat! I shall touch her with my nose!”. I then hear:


Which, for us, is the sound of a functional family.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please please please please
write from the cat's point of view (was that apostrophe right?)

That would be hilarious
alternatively save it for the book...

You are writing that book aren't you!

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O lucky dog, even with an occasional nail in the nose. I'm glad to hear he found a home with you.

10:13 AM  
Blogger cathy said...

i have been waiting to hear about lulabelle's reaction to dog since you posted that he went home with you. it was just as wonderful as i expected, thanks for a much needed laugh. i'm with anon, i'd love to hear it from lulabelle's point of view!

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I predict at some point, when you least expect it, you might find them curled up together like a furry Yin-Yang.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

they're probably having some sort of illicit relations whilst everyone is out of the house.

they only PRETEND to hate each other. or it's a S&M thing. whatever.

thanks again for a wonderful laugh!

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I love your writing. You make me laugh out loud and smile in recognition. Your words can also touch me and move me to tears.

My 7-year-old daughter has been begging me to get her a dog. I was confident in my negative answer until I read this piece. She wants to go to an animal shelter and talk with a vet to learn more about dogs. She loves the neighborhood dogs, including the one who chased our cat up a tree. I wondered how our cat would fare with a dog in the house, so it's fun to read about your experience.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Yondalla said...

Someone sent me a link because I so very much need a laugh right now...

...and my response is to get all information-sharing. (sigh. It's me, not you).

I learned recently that a dog that stays off the furniture until you leave is a Very Good Dog. In doggy world dominance means that you get to control the resources. Whoever is most dominant in the room or house is the one in control. So when you are there, the dog stays off. When you leave, the dog is in charge and gets to make the rules.

Of course the reason my dog and recently deceased cat got along so well was that SHE was in charge when we left -- and she let him up on the furniture all he wanted.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

It's gotten to the point where I check your blog every day for updates! haha Shame on you, being such a good writer that you are addictive. (-:

Hope that you and family had a lovely Halloween, and that Lullabelle is enjoying her freedom again!

2:31 PM  

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