Here we come, trundling down the sidewalk.
What a spectacle we must make. One small dog, pulling on the leash as if determined to win the Iditarod and yapping piercingly over anything he doesn’t like or understand. A lawn mower. A woman in yellow shorts. A blade of grass, growing at a menacing angle.
As his so-called owner, I am so loaded down with knapsacks, clickers, gadgetry and other dog-centric paraphernalia that I look like an old-timey peddler. Some Dr. Barcephalus Adams Miracle Snake Ointment for your rheumy-tism, ma’dam? A broom made of finest straw? Perhaps a roll of doggie bags, ordered from Amazon and manufactured in China, where the quality-control officer somehow failed to notice that the bags have no bottoms, so are technically sleeves?
So it goes when you’ve acquired a puppy as energetic and stubborn as its owner is tired and clueless. I will try anything and buy anything to avoid becoming “that neighbor.”
Truth be told, I used to be the neighbor who judged “that neighbor.” I sagely offered unsolicited advice and quoted Cesar Millan to friends who had overly boisterous dogs. I patted myself on the back when people commented on how Kita rarely ever barked — “so unusual for a Pomeranian!”
“You just have to be consistent with your dog,” I replied smugly, as if I trained German shepherds for K-9 duty in my spare time.
“Gentle corrections, over and over, followed by lavish praise and treats when they respond as you want them to.”
What a 24-karat idiot. I was just rolling out the red carpet so that karma could march down it carrying Winston, who would then proceed to pee on it.
Winston is whip-smart, charming, clownish, enthusiastic, inquisitive, loving, bold, athletic and dangerously handsome. He is also thoroughly pig-headed, destructive, mischievous, yappy, hyperactive, independent, not overly eager to please and constantly looking for opportunities to overthrow his dopey owner.
He understands a huge vocabulary of words, with the exception of the words “no” and “potty.” He owns almost every chew toy known to man and gets tons of play time, yet has chewed his way through three power cords, a lampshade, a pile of firewood in the yard, a couch cushion, the edge of my wall-to-wall carpet, three area rugs, green tomatoes, green tomato plants, the wire fence around the green tomato plants, the corner of my kitchen island, several pairs of shoes and the leg of an antique dining room table.
He can walk through a mile-long dog park and past 14 fire hydrants without going to the bathroom, then walk straight into the house, head for the most expensive rug and lift his leg.
So, as I said, I am willing to try anything. Before he took his first puppy-training class, I had developed a series of bizarre and unorthodox methods to control his most outrageous behaviors. At one point, we discovered a loud zipping sound could get his attention, even when he was caught up in a deep, “I need to roll in this dead bird!” reverie.
He was also obsessed with brooms, so I resorted to carrying a broom around and waving it when I needed to get his attention. It also worked to lie flat on the ground, which prompted him to run over to me, sniffing and whining, to make sure the Keeper of the Can Opener still had a pulse.
Once we started clicker training, I decided to get a little pouch for treats, doggie bags, hand sanitizer and a cellphone. I wore the clicker on a band around my wrist. Because even I have too much pride to carry a broom while walking my dog, I also brought a ball to throw in case I really needed to get attention. For a time, I carried a spray bottle in one hand, as it seemed to be the only way to distract him if he was lunging and barking at an elderly passerby or a 130-pound bull mastiff. This was later replaced by a little device called the Barx Buddy, which creates a high-pitched ultrasonic sound designed to instantly grab the attention of even the most attention-deficit sight hound.
Now equipped as if we plan to scale the Tetons, we head off for a 30-minute walk that will consist of 23 minutes of Winston chasing crickets and marking trees and seven minutes of walking. Along the way, I will find myself engaging in all sorts of bizarre attention-getting behaviors, varying from throwing myself on the ground and making “ZZZZIP!” sounds to singing, leaping and setting off flares when he finally goes potty outside.
This typically happens whenever other dog owners are in plain sight, especially if said onlookers have well-behaved pooches, who can sit for hours with a biscuit balanced on their noses and be counted on to pull people out of burning buildings.
“You just have to be consistent with your dog,” they’ll say, shaking their heads.
I’ll smile politely, lead Winston away and mutter to myself, “Just wait until your next dog.”
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at email@example.com.