The Pupil Becomes the Master

HTHA denies woman’s discrimination charge
March 7, 2011
Thurs., March 10
March 10, 2011

It’s slightly disheartening hearing at the first puppy class that your 7-month-old pound rescue could very well flunk … especially given that our canine teacher hadn’t even met him yet.

“Don’t worry if your dog has to go through the class again,” the instructor said, as she watched dog owners pass the coveted prize for success from hand to hand. The gold medal hanging from the red-white-and-blue ribbon would indicate the difference between a well-behaved pet and a mongrel. As owners, we sat a little taller that day, all of us optimistic our animal would rise to the occasion and do us proud.

This past Saturday, approximately a dozen classmates of my Terrier/Schnauzer mix successfully tested out of class. These are the proud, the few, the medal recipients. These are the pooches that sit on command. Lay down when told. Stay. Heel. And, the pinnacle of doggie etiquette, roll over.

As for Elvis … not so much.

Elvis, my rebel without sharp paws, will sit if the mood strikes. But turns out he’s more of a watcher than a doer in class. He’s more the class secretary, keeping track of what everyone else is doing, what type of treats the owner is enticing his or her four-legged friend with and the like. And he’s always alert when I, exasperated, drop my hand with the clump of lamb – intended as a reward for a job well done. He can jump and grab it, swallow it whole and return to watching the others work for their reward before I grasp what has just happened.

Speed. That’s what my hunka burning love has learned so far.

“Some dogs just get it slower,” the woman leading us through the 7-week session says. “It’s all about building trust between you and your pet.”

I trust that, given the chance, Elvis will take over my household. Elvis, I suspect, trusts that he can.

And therein may lay our problem. We’ve got the colossal kennel taking over the family room – the one spot with enough space. The doggie jail is situated between the sofa and TV, and provides a calming view of the outdoors via the patio window.

Despite the choruses of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and sad eyes looking out from behind the bars, I trust that Elvis could single-handedly in a day destroy our domain if left loose. He’s eaten the soles of shoes, strewn the living room with laundry, chewed porcelain dolls, pens, homework and the Tri-Parish Times. He’s consumed empty go-cups, tissues and remnants of a Lay’s Sweet Southern Heat Barbecue Flavored Potato Chips, which resulted in two days of God-awful gas. (I’m guessing it was the chips – not the Tri-Parish Times – that caused it.) His latest trick is grabbing the end of the toilet paper and running … in every direction … leaving a paper trail in his wake.

“But as you build that trust,” the instructor continues, “you’ll find your dog is a valued member of the family. He’ll love you unconditionally and follow your every command. You do not have these dogs by accident; it’s God’s will. That’s why they’re man’s best friend.”

Well, this woman’s best friend did graduate – by the hair on his snout. Earned the “Most Improved” award, in fact. That’s probably because he tried to bite the instructor in the first class. He was nicer Saturday.

Elvis still has a lot of learning to do, but we’re not giving up. We’ve gone back to the basics: a dog food-only diet, jail time when my 17-year-old and I are out of the house, plenty of playtime when we’re home and remedial sit-and-stay training.

When classes resume in another week or so, we’ll head back to school.

Who knows, the second time might be the charm. It’s not about the medal, though. Elvis tried to eat that on the drive home. Nope, it is the quest for the polite pup.

That is why, grasshopper; that is why.