Things really went to hell in a hand basket when Bisou joined the household. Just as big dogs want to greet you by putting their paws on your shoulders, little dogs want to greet you by putting their paws on your knees. The difference is, that a big dog with his paws on your shoulders is way more offensive than a little dog with her paws on your knees, so nobody looks askance if you correct the big dog by a yank on the collar or a knee on the breast. But it is physically impossible to knee a little dog on the breast, and as to yanking by the collar…by the time you\’ve got your hands on it the entering guest is squealing sweet nothings at the miscreant, which makes the little dog jump even higher.
Plus, I now had three dogs to contend with: an old and formerly well-trained but clever one who was ever on the lookout for chinks in my armor (Lexi); an in-his-prime lover of all mankind who couldn\’t tell the difference between appropriate behavior in the sheep pasture from appropriate behavior in the house (Wolfie); and a relative innocent whose purpose in life was to leap into people\’s arms or, at any rate, at their knees (Bisou).
I knew I was in trouble when I found myself wishing that people would just stay away from our house.
But I was reluctant to give up all intercourse with the human race in favor of my dogs, so I analyzed the problem. And when I was done, the finger of blame pointed at Wolfie. Lexi was too old and slow in her greetings to upset anyone. Bisou was more annoyance than threat, and I could always pick her up in my arms and spare the guest. But I absolutely had to get Wolfie under control.
Hence my tough love, boot-camp initiative, which I put into practice last week. I reread a couple of books, among them one by an errant former monk of New Skete, and thought back to some of the stuff I had seen and heard in my years of obedience classes with various dogs. I put Wolfie on a diet–not a food diet, but a psychological one.
I began with down-stays–one in the morning while we ate breakfast; one in the evening as we watched TV. These take effort on the part of the trainer as well as the dog, since one absolutely must get up and put the dog back in its place every time it gets up. Also, every time he wanted to be let out I would make him sit and I would wait by the open door, letting the cold rush into the house, for as long as it took him to stop sniffing the great outdoors and look at me, whereupon I would release him. Every single time.
In addition–and this seemed a bit mean to me, but I did it because the errant monk recommends it–I stopped stepping over him when he was lying in my way, and instead made him get up, every single time. According to the monk, stepping over a dog is not a big deal to us, but it is full of significance to the dog: it tells him that we consider him superior. I would not have adopted this so readily had it not been that every German Shepherd we have ever owned has adored my husband, who has neither fed nor played with nor trained them, but who has always made them get up when they were in his way.
And I cut way back on the petting and the treat-giving. A breeder who lives in harmony with a houseful of German Shepherds says, \”I never give my dogs too much food, or too much love.\” I thought that, at least temporarily, this was something I could do. Finally, even though Wolfie is good about coming when called outdoors, I made him walk on the leash instead of letting him run free.
To my amazement, his response was immediate. He paid attention. He curried favor. He followed me around the house. It touched me, but I didn\’t let him know it.
For reasons that I will write about some day, recently groups of guys have been tromping through our house. Guys whose boots and jeans are redolent of their own Labs and Shepherds and Pit Bulls. Guys–the most dangerous kind, for training purposes–who like dogs. Before they arrive, I put Wolfie\’s collar and leash on him. When the guys knock on the door, I tell him \”Down! Stay!\” And when they walk in I say, \”I\’m the dog trainer.\” They understand. I tell Wolfie \”O.k.\” and let him greet for about ten seconds, then put him back on stay, and there he lies, as the guys wander through every inch of the house, often stepping over him to peer at some window or wall.
Triumph! Success! And, as if this weren\’t enough, Bisou–whose training I\’d decided to postpone until I had Wolfie in hand–put herself in boot camp on her own. I noticed that, when I would give the down-stay commands to Wolfie, she–who had never gone down unless enticed with a treat–would get a serious look on her face and lie down like a little statue until I released them both. Now, when the guys in boots come tromping through, she holds her stays like a champ. And she has done this while getting as much petting as ever–I cannot keep my hands from this dog–and without having to wait at the door until she makes eye contact, because she always makes eye contact. But then, she is a Cavalier.
I hope that, as the good behaviors become automatic with Wolfie, I will be able gradually to ease up and then dispense with boot camp. In the meantime, however, it\’s working well for us and, if he\’s as attuned to auras and energies and subtle things as I think he is, he must be happier, knowing how much better I like him when he\’s like this.