I am having a problem with our dog. You might remember Jake. I wrote about forgetting him as we left from a holiday weekend visit with some friends at their lake house. Jake is a pretty mellow dog. He follows me around the house, lays under the desk while I write, and other than shedding, sloppy drink habits, and an audible and extremely aggravating nighttime routine of self-cleaning, he’s fairly easy to accept as far as most family pets go. But lately he hasn’t been listening.
Now, before you say anything, I know this is probably my fault. Like most everything in and about this house, he doesn’t get enough attention. I know that. We worked with him a good deal when we first brought him home from the pound, struggled hard to get down to the bare bones of what makes a good dog tick, and for a while he did really well, and us, too, with his training. With some basic behavioral understanding and simple commands, we could get him to sit and lay down and come to a whistle. Some days he did better than others. Some habits we simply couldn’t get him to break, such as chasing after cars if one happened to invade his immediate space. Other things, for whatever reason, like learning to shake, were difficult to grasp and took a great amount of effort on both of our parts. With practice, however, we managed and eventually even the hard things became simple, too. But something in the last year has changed. I just noticed it in the last few weeks, but I think it’s been building up over time, this will to not do what we say.
In the likelihood that some animal expert out there will suggest it, I’ll be the first to say, I get what it is that I ask for. And all that I ask for from Jake is the same that I’d ask of any addition to our family: play nice. In return, I don’t make of him ridiculous requests, or ask that he do something that’s impossible, as in, say, talk like a pirate or go get his own damn breakfast. I give him his freedom to act like a dog and he gives us his love and companionship. It’s a shared responsibility, which is why yesterday morning when I asked him to come and he looked at me and saw what I wanted but just stood there staring back at me, until I told him to come once more, in a voice more suited for commanding authority, and he turned and ran away — and then stayed gone for hours — that I simply could not believe it.
How could this be? We had worked so hard. We had an understanding. We had accepted him and his imperfections and though our arrangement with him was not ideal, what with the lack of time and attention, there was never a shortage of need or respect.
They say a dog’s motivation is tied closely to its social order, that is, how goes the pack goes the animal. If that’s true, and I believe that it is, then we do have ourselves to blame. But it’s not the question of blame I am searching to fill. I just want what’s wrong to be fixed. I want him to listen. I want what we have in our lives to play nice and if not, at least have a good reason.
Perhaps if we could trade places, Jake would see that I only want what’s good for him, too. The world is a dangerous, sometimes godforsaken place. It is full of unwelcome things that want to invade our space. It’s important we all stick together. And on my end, I think maybe it’s time to dust off those books and training manuals, because in them, I’m sure, there is something I missed and like anything else in this life, if you give a thing an inch it’s bound to take a mile.