Being at a loss for words recently — ahem — I asked Stacey what she thought should be the topic for my column this month. Without hesitation, she announced, “Barking.”
I believe her instantaneous response was inspired by her current summer read, a book about canine training by Cesar Millan, aka “The Dog Whisperer.” Mr. Millan was made famous by his popular TV series of the same name, for his innate ability to make dogs do what he tells them to do.
This past December my youngest son had been begging and pleading for a dog for Christmas. He wanted a beagle. He insisted he would totally take care of him: walking, feeding, training, grooming, and “picking up” after it.
“I promise, Dad!”
We got him a dog anyway, though I thought a beagle wasn’t the best choice, mainly because they didn’t have any beagles at the shelter when I visited. But they did have a very cute little dog, barely more than a puppy, that appeared to be part long-haired Lhasa Apso and part short-legged bassett hound. The combination seemed utilitarian, because I thought if we got his belly slightly wet we could use him to damp-mop the floors.
The Dog Whisperer’s training mantra is that in order to get your dog to follow your commands you have to be both calm and assertive while your dog remains calm and submissive.
My son adores his dog and has done everything he’d promised.
For a few years now, I’ve had a morning walk routine, starting from our house on Belmont, down to the post office, up 243 of the stairs, then along the Indian Creek Trail back to the Heights and home. It’s always been pretty uneventful, but now that I have a dog I have to walk, it’s sometimes a little unnerving.
Not long ago I had the dog on the leash as I climbed the trail. I saw a rather large man lumbering down the trail toward me. I said, “Good morning,” as he approached, and he gave a slight grunt and nod, but as he passed he said in a high-pitched voice, “Hey there, sweetheart!”
I’m still not sure which one of us he was talking to.
Another time a dog owner had her little rat-like canine tethered to one of those stupid retractable leashes that can’t have more than an 8-pound test. These leashes are just long enough so that while you are walking on the sidewalk, your dog can be out safely in the middle of the street.
This woman’s little beast was at least 20 feet in front of her, skittering any-which-way it wished, which meant it headed straight for my dog’s nether-regions. As my dog tried desperately to get himself de-mounted from this little lust-weasel, the owner finally caught up, making little tut-tut noises. “None of that, now, Prince,” she said, “you know the rules!”
My youngest doesn’t like to walk the dog because he’s just days away from turning 15 and doesn’t like to do much of anything that doesn’t involve a joy-stick and some form of animated violence. He also knows that the reason you take a dog outside for a walk is that there are certain things a dog shouldn’t do inside the house. But apparently it doesn’t help a young man’s image to be seen by his peers walking behind a dog while carrying a plastic bag. I tried to make the job more appealing, saying that on cold mornings — once the bag is tied securely — it can make a very comforting hand-warmer.
I’ve tried to take Mr. Millan’s dog-training lessons to heart, realizing that there is more than a little wisdom in his calm and assertive mantra. Because it has worked so well with the dog, I’ve expanded its use to the boys. They can complain all they want about cruel chores and unreasonably early bedtimes, but I stay calm and assertive. And — just like the dog whisperer says — they quickly come to understand that I am the pack leader, and then calmly and submissively do as they’re told.
Craig Danner is a novelist, physician assistant, and semi-pro dog walker living in Hood River with his wife and two teenage sons. He can be reached 541-436-4144.