So there’s this guy who jogs around our village with an unleashed Black Lab right by his side the entire time. The dog holds a stick in its mouth and runs alongside its master stride for stride. When they reach a crosswalk, the dog sits and waits patiently as the man jogs in place. When its safe to cross, off they go, showing off their camaraderie to the townfolk.
Even with all the activity going on around them, from passing cars to spastic dogs to antagonizing squirrels, nothing can compel this dog to stray off course.
I would LOVE to have a dog like that.
But in comparison to this fine example of training, our dogs are unrefined buffoons. To put it in perspective, if our dogs ever attend obedience class, they’ll be the ones eating paste.
Of our three dogs, one was on purpose and the other two are rescues.
Our first, Jackson, would kind of meet the above criteria, but only by default. At 11 years old with bilateral hip dysplasia and a curved spine, he has no choice but to stay by my side or await my return while tethered to a stroller. It’s hard to make an escape when you can barely move. While the will to deviate exists, he simply lacks the means.
Our second, Dory, would fail miserably. We think she’s around 12 or 13 years old. Being partially deaf, partially blind, and way more than partially senile, Dory would have no problem ignoring passing pedestrians. Not because of any special tactical training, but rather because of mangled corneas and seven remaining brain cells.
It’s a sad truth but Dory is beyond training. We’ve tried with even the simplest of commands and an entire box of treats, but she’s just too mentally vacant after so many years of neglect and abuse to do much more than exist. As such, we decided to ditch the training and just keep her comfortable for the remainder of her urine-spritzing days.
To make myself feel as though we’ve at least accomplished something in the realm of training, I’ll occasionally order her to “look oblivious.” And to her credit, she rocks it every time.
Our third dog, Mahlika, shows the most promise. She’s less than two years old, is smart as a whip, and came to us already housebroken, socialized, and trained with the basics (sit, stay, lay down). The problem is that she finds it impossible to ignore anything within her eyesight.
Do you remember the dog from the movie “Up” who said, “My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.”? Well, that’s Mahlika. Only due to her penchant for over-acting, she follows it with a leap, a grapple, and a dry hump for good measure. Heather says she’s just establishing her dominance and that all female dogs do it. To which I expressed that I’d like to see her establish a little more dominance around here as well.
With treats in reward of course.
When we’re on our walks with Mahlika she’ll tug and pull as though she’s the frontrunner in the Iditarod. As smart as she is, she can’t grasp the fact that if she just walked a tad slower, she wouldn’t sound like an asthmatic zombie with a tracheotomy.
Instead, she feels it proper to stretch our tendons and ligaments to their breaking point while plowing forward into the great beyond. And if she spots a squirrel? Another dog? An inanimate object? Dig those heels in, because unless you’re properly anchored, you’re going for a ride.
I don’t need the perfect dog and I don’t seek miracles. All I want is a dog that doesn’t take us for a walk when leashed. And it’s going take more than just teaching her how to heel. We also need to teach her to ignore all the wonderful delights and temptations that surround her.
We need to teach her to ignore the squirrels that dare her to give chase by skittling around trees and pouncing on imaginary nuts in the grass.
We need to teach her to ignore all the neighborhood dogs that slip into spastic barking fits at the sight of her.
And we need to teach her that if a leaf overturns after a slight gust of wind, it’s okay. The world will go on. It doesn’t require an all out blitz to investigate.
In short, we need to teach her “Arrogance Training.”
Arrogance Training is the art of instilling feigned obliviousness to everything in sight.
Doggy graduates of Arrogance Training will have the extraordinary ability to recognize the presence of squirrels, birds, and pee-laden street signs without actually feeling compelled to acknowledge them. If a person or animal crosses their line of sight, they’ll be hardwired to ignore their existence. With nose held high, they’ll stroll forward without a care in the world. They’ll be so self-absorbed with manufactured pompousness that anything and anyone will go blissfully ignored.
Having been to Beverly Hills, I know it can be instilled in humans, for it’s a trait shared by elitist movie stars, Real Housewives of Any County, and 13-year old girls.
But how do you instill this behavior in dogs? Judging by the number of distractions in a dog’s world, I’d have the fattest dog on the planet if I tried to dissuade her through treats.
I’ve seen a lot of people using clickers to try and modify a dog’s behavior but I’m not sure how it’d apply to Arrogance Training. Mahlika darts after anything that moves and if I’m expected to click every time I see her ears perk and her eyes widen, I’ll need a pair of castanets to keep pace.
My children fruitlessly employ the Dog Whisperer method of “PSHHH’ing” their way through training, but it fails to elicit a response because shouting “PSHHH!” is all they do. They’ll want the dog to sit but say and do nothing more than “PSHHH!”, which coincidentally, is also their command for lay down, come, and help me find the remote. The dogs are justifiably clueless.
I’ve been told to interrupt her natural instinct to chase and explore whenever I see her respond to something of interest. But to Mahlika, everything in the universe is of interest. So how exactly would this be done?
Time? Is that the answer? Just give it time? And if so, how much? Until the dog is deaf, blind, and senile? Until the dog’s hips no longer function? If old age is the secret to training success, fine, I’ll claim victory in about 12 more years. But I’d love to know if there’s a way to shortcut all this.
Like I said, I don’t expect miracles. I realize that squirrels are like furry bags of crack to canines, so I’ll give her those. But Mahlika wants to sniff, love, and chase everything. And it’s tearing us at our limbs. She’s smart enough to do it, she just has two witless dog owners at the controls.
It’ll be so liberating if we can figure this out and join that jogger guy as being the only two people in the county who can unleash their dogs without it resulting in the Amazing Race.
And once that’s accomplished I’ll get crackin’ on my wife’s dominance training. I just hope she’s a little more selective than Mahlika if it’s successful.