Rudy, our Golden Retriever, won’t come in.
I was late to work a few mornings ago because he wouldn’t come in then, either. I’ve also missed many hours of sleep when I’ve let him out after 11 p.m. and he refused to come in until 4 a.m. Fearful that his barking at the door would wake the neighbors, I huddled under a blanket on the couch, waiting for him to determine when was a good time to come inside.
After every trip out back, it’s the same story: eventually, he barks urgently to be let in. We open the door and say, “Come in.” He, in turn, stands just-close-enough outside the door so that we can’t grab him. Then he turns his head to one side, then the other, refusing to meet our eyes. Entreaties to come into the house fall on deaf ears. We command, cajole, beg, and bribe—to no avail. He’s in charge and wants us to know it.
He’s always been this way, despite having gone through puppy training. He was probably enrolled at too early an age, but I was pressured by my peers from the dog park. (I no longer take Rudy there. The dogs run, jump, hump, and occasionally fight–behavior one expects to encounter at a dog park. What one doesn’t expect is the competitiveness and judgmentalism of the dog owners who worship there.)
But back to Rudy … at about 12 weeks of age, maybe earlier, I enrolled him in a puppy training class at a local chain pet store. The trainer, Dwayne, who was about 20, said that he had been training dogs since he was 5. I figured that Dwayne was exaggerating, but after seeing his methods, I realized that he was still training dogs like a 5-year-old would. He would say, ” Sit.” The dog would either sit or not. In Dwayne’s eyes, the dog had obeyed him.
When Dwayne was teaching the dogs in the group to “Drop the Ball,” they all obeyed. Rudy, who was sprawled on the tile floor with a ball in his mouth did nothing. Dwayne patted him and said, “Good boy, Rudy.” I countered that Rudy had not dropped the ball. Dwayne replied that he had indeed, but Rudy’s mouth was so close to the floor that it was hard to see that he had released it. That was a bald-faced lie, but there was no arguing with Dwayne who had, by this time, moved on to teaching us another of his no-fail training tactics.
There were many mishaps each Saturday morning during the training sessions, but the last session lowered the bar for all future trainees. It was the day that the dogs had to demonstrate that they had learned everything that they had been taught. All of the dogs were tested on obeying basic commands, and they were all deemed proficient—even Rudy, who was lying on his back, oblivious to Dwayne and his orders. Finally, we dog owners were instructed to take the leashes off of our pets and walk them through the store. This was the final test. If the dog walked calmly up and down aisles filled with colorful, plush toys and delectable treats without veering off course, that would earn him or her a “Fully Trained” certificate.
My son was with me that day. He leaned down and unclipped Rudy’s leash. The other dogs calmly walked toward the aisles. Rudy took off like the proverbial bat out of Hell. He ran up and down every aisle like a demon. He skitted, he rolled, he jumped, he raced, he howled, he defecated on the floor. And then he ran again. While my son took off to find paper towels and disinfectant, I chased Rudy. Soon after my son had returned to begin his task of removing the evidence, I managed to back Rudy into a corner. Once Rudy had evaluated his chances of escape, he gave up and sat down.
Dwayne appeared right before I trapped Rudy. After a glance at my son, who was scrubbing the floor, he looked at Rudy. “Look at you sitting down!” he said. “Good boy! You passed!” Dwayne turned to me with a big smile, handed me Rudy’s ”Fully Trained” certificate, and walked off. My son and I looked at each other in amazement.
Rudy, on the other hand, looked smug. He considers that certificate to be his license to act just like he did at the pet store. And he’s acted that way ever since.