Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pack Mentality

Have you met Sam?

If not, a quick (yet thorough) tutorial:

This is Sam 1% of the time:

This is Sam the other 99%:

Sam is precisely 86 pounds of muscled, active two-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, and he isn’t afraid to throw that kind of heft around. He leaps, he licks, he tears a path around the house. He has exuberant zest for life…even after his daily four-mile run. When he comes near, Toby assumes a position I'd call a cross between a fetal position and the one flight attendants tell you to assume in the case of an emergency landing...curled in a ball, hands over head. What can I say? His primal instincts urge him to protect his neck and soft underbelly. At least he’s well-versed in surviving a bear mauling. Let’s hope that doesn’t come in handy.

The rest of the time, however, Toby rides him like a pony. Told you I’d get you one, kid.

Yesterday, Sam actually crashed his way through our six-foot wooden fence between our yard and our neighbor‘s.


And when I say ‘crashed’, I do mean that he physically knocked a full segment of fencing to the ground, then victoriously trotted over it and into his newly expanded territory.

A few days before Christmas, someone (I won’t name names, Nate) left the side gate open, and Sam cruised the block for over an hour while we were shopping. Our other neighbor dragged him back home. She had to enlist her husband to help. When I came to her door to sheepishly thank her, she sported muddy paw prints all over her jeans. I pretended not to notice this.

So clearly, Sam needs some schooling. We’ve been his people for over four months now, and I’m not quite sure what we were waiting for. I mean, I’d made some solid stabs at effort: we bought a harness, which we might as well have hooked a cart to, all the good it did. We bought doggy treats and practiced the usual sit-stay-play-dead-when-shot-with-a-Nerf-dart. Those commands don’t come in handy, much. Then we bought a Gentle Leader, which applies the same principle for leading a 1000-pound horse to leading a 85-pound dog, and whoa there boy, it works. And then we talked to our friend who’s a service dog trainer for Dogs for the Deaf, and he said a big fat no to the Gentle Leader. He’s inclined to believe we should be able to lead Sam with nothing but the inadequate muscles in our own weak, human arms, a confident command or two, and a simple collar. In our defense, he hasn’t actually met Sam.

But then I read Be the Pack Leader, and it turns out, Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan believes the same. Moreover, he thinks Sam is ‘unbalanced', and I’m inclined to agree.

Charlie just thinks he’s dumb as a post. (Sam, not Cesar.) And in all fairness, this is a valid possibility. But I’m certain he can learn. It’s not as though I’m asking him to master rocket science here. Of course, for all we know, he has some sort of tortured past. He’s the first dog we’ve ever had who hasn’t joined our family as a small pup. We adopted him at one and half years old, and all we know of his previous family is that they admittedly indulged him with too much food to compensate for the fact that they were too busy to exercise him. Logic, anyone? So maybe he’s battling repressed memories. I wouldn’t know. But it’s my firm belief that dogs tend to get over the crap in their lives more readily than you or I do. They genuinely seem to have no problem with the turn-the-other-cheek, live-in-the-moment stuff. I really don’t think they lie on their doggy beds, wallowing in the past, wondering, why didn‘t they love me?

And so we‘re starting fresh. Starting today. Yep, starting right now, Sam and I are going to embark upon Cesar Millan’s strategy of good energy, balanced homes, and positive reinforcement, and I will learn to be a fair, calm-assertive Alpha. I’m a little bit miffed to realize I haven’t been one all along.

I say this in front of witnesses: he will stop leaping on anyone who enters the house, and he will trot beside me as we run, and I think it’ll do both of us a world of good. I’ll be sure to report our progress (and thereby let you know when it‘s safe to enter our home again).

And then I think I’ll apply the same theory to the kids. Because I have a pack of those, too, and last I checked, they were all over me like wild animals.

(For other Wordful Wednesday posts, go visit Seven Clown Circus!)
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