Dogs are tourists in the human world. Which is not to say they don’t love the lifestyle. They just don’t always speak the language.
When I first got Joey in 2004, I knew we’d both need training. Me, because I felt so uncertain about what a dog needed to be safe and happy. Him, because I felt some things were basic for safety. Coming when called, for example, seemed like a simple thing that could be so important in so many situations.
The years have passed. Joey’s file is fat with certificates of completion of training classes at J9sK9s (j9sk9s.com). He can sit and lie down on command. He spins and takes a bow. He will stay for an extended period of time on demand. It still amazes me to watch.
But coming when called . . . we either haven’t practiced enough – as in constantly – or it’s beneath a Pekingese-terrier mix to obey such a command.
I’ve grown to have great respect for what it means to come when called to a dog. If he actually wanted to be with you, he’d be there. Since he’s not, he’s got something much more seductive on his mind — following a smell, a track, a cat, a squirrel, food or any of the 1,000 things in a neighborhood that can capture a dog’s attention. My smiling face, lilting call and fat fistful of dog treats don’t usually stand up to the competition.
Even so, training for a dog is like a Berlitz course in human speak. It gives dog and human a common understanding of expectations. Dogs like that. Cultural faux pas with humans almost always have unhappy endings for dogs.
Joey’s friend, Red, is a poster dog for how a little bit of training can change a dog’s perception of the world.
Red’s a faster study than Joey. Today when he runs up to his Aunt Vera or me, he sits with military precision waits quietly for his reward. His spins have the energy of the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, as he went hi-ho and away.
He’s not so quick to be aroused by bicycles, skateboards or other dogs. He’s much more focused on the person holding his leash. Red’s more than earned his Resident Green Card in the human world.