Every few years, America finds and crowns a new King or Queen of Dogs. The ceremony usually comes with a book deal, some slow-news-day think pieces by a few columnists, an interview on NPR, maybe a major magazine article. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect it has something to do with the way dogs have, to a large degree, joined children as the object of adult obsession. The other day someone asked me how often dogs chase me when I’m out cycling. The question was startling, as I realized it had probably been more than 30 years, which was the last time people thought it was OK for dogs to roam around free in neighborhoods.
(When I was in junior high, and my bike was my main mode of transportation, I was chased by a raging ankle-nipper at least twice a week. I became skilled at the angled downward kick that discouraged most of the little buggers. More persistent chasers got a squirt in the face from my water bottle.)
It’s good to have a Ruler of Dogs. We had a lot to learn. Crating, for instance. No one ever crated dogs when I was young, preferring to whack them with rolled-up newspapers when we got home and saw the damage they’d done. If I could have those days back, the first thing I’d do would be: Buy a crate. Dogs got walked less then, and on shorter leashes. The inventor of the reel-type dog leash? Should get a Nobel prize.
I’ve been a camp follower of these folks, along with everyone else. Spriggy came into our lives when The Monks of New Skete were in their ascendancy. I later was entranced by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ “The Hidden Life of Dogs,” although that was a hot love affair that cooled quickly — I came to think of her as a twit. Leaving your dogs free to roam? What kind of nut, etc.
Other contenders for the crown pop up now and again. Jon Katz used to scold the mainstream media for being thoroughly out of it; now he’s pretty much all about the dogs. There’s that Tuesdays With Marley book, which I refuse to buy on general principles; I can smell that disappointment coming a mile away.
The newest King of Dogs is Cesar Millan, aka the Dog Whisperer. I caught him on the Discovery Channel while channel-surfing one day a few weeks ago, and seemingly within days, he was in my face like, constantly. The New Yorker sent Malcolm Gladwell to analyze his body language. The New York Times ran a cute photo of him on one of his signature dog-whispering techniques — his four-hour daily tramp through the Santa Monica Mountains with the motley crew of canine hard cases he’s overseeing at any given moment.
But like parenting experts, sooner or later they all lose me. The Monks of New Skete advised that all dogs be taught the extended down-stay, and included photos of their pack of German shepherds lying quietly on the perimeter of the dining hall, waiting for dinner to be over. Thomas basically advocated for dogs to take over your house and sleep all over your bed. Millan and I started to fall out when he said dogs should always walk behind their owners, in true “pack leader” fashion. Also, when he said Oprah Winfrey was a perfect example of a pack leader.
All I can say is: These folks have never worked with my dog. The extended down-stay, for my terrier, would require bolting him to the floor. Alan’s allergist banished the dog from the bedroom, let alone the bed. Walk ahead of him at all times? Has Millan ever worked with a Jack Russell? I’d have to have the speed of Carl Lewis. And Oprah? Please.
Here’s what I want to know: What is it with dogs and pooping? The other day I sat down with a calculator and figured I’d observed, and cleaned up after, approximately 9,000 Spriggy poops. That’s a lot. And I’ve observed a few things. I know that if we walk down a street where one homeowner is standing outside, that’s the house he will choose to poop in front of. If a dog is behind a fence barking furiously at us, Spriggy will sometimes engage but nearly as often, studiously ignore him and then poop in that yard, too. I know dogs mark territory with urine, but what about defecation? What’s he trying to tell the guy outside, admiring his landscaping? “I defy you?” Or, “Here’s a memo on the local food supply. Sniff and learn.”
Also, if Cesar took my dog for a walk and expected to stay in front of him, he’d best bring his Nikes.
Danny said on June 2, 2006 at 10:57 am
I’ve found that homes with hard flooring really help people with allergies to animals. Did that figure into your recent upgrade?
Across the street, neighbors put up a sign reading, “Clean up after your dog!” And down the street a bit, another neighbor put up a sign reading, “Please pick up after your pet.” Well the latter request is being honored while the neighbor with the imperative sign keeps getting her yard peppered with piles of steaming-hot twisters. In this case, I think it is the dog owners who are saying, “I defy you.”
nancy said on June 2, 2006 at 11:01 am
I always clean up after mine, unless he somehow catches me unprepared. After 9,000 bombs, I’m rarely caught unprepared.
Alan’s allergy to the dog is mild, but the docs have told him not to press his luck by getting a cat. His cat-dander scratch test says it’ll only end in heartbreak.
mary said on June 2, 2006 at 11:03 am
Cesal Millian never hooked me at all. I don’t like the way his show is edited to make it look like one hike around the block and the dog is suddenly Lassie. At least with the quietly macho Cesar, it is.
Crates always looked like a great idea to me, but for Great Danes it is simply not doable unless I move to a much bigger house. A Great Dane sized crate is about the size of my bathroom.
mary said on June 2, 2006 at 11:20 am
There used to be someone in my neighborhood who plastered his fence and trees with signs saying “no pooping here!” and “keep your poop to yourself.” At least fifteen signs, zero compliance. I used to give directions too lost people by referring to the dog poop house. The signs were so annoying I’m sure people went out of their way to make theirr dogs poop there.
My dogs seem to save their poops for their own backyard. They’ll mark every tree in the neighborhood on a walk, but for the serious stuff, the prefer their home turf.
nancy said on June 2, 2006 at 12:30 pm
They’ll mark every tree in the neighborhood on a walk, but for the serious stuff, the prefer their home turf.
Now, see, Sprig is exactly the opposite. He’ll hold it and hold it, waiting for his walk. When circumstances demand he do it on “his” property, he seems irritated, like he’s fouled his own nest somehow. (If he’s ever on a tie-out stake, he refuses to do anything within the circle.) I’d really like to know what’s going on here, psychologically.
Mindy said on June 2, 2006 at 1:41 pm
I can’t even get past the cover of the Marley book and don’t dare read it because it’s a given that it would only piss me off. Marley was probably lacking in exercise and training which made him impossible by the author’s definition. I spent three years of my sanity attempting to make a pet out of the world’s worst Labrador and have the opinion of the Last Word in animal behavior, Dr. Andrew Luescher at Purdue, as verification that he was indeed the world’s worst pet dog.
Incidentally, Dr. Luescher’s favorite dog book, at least at the time, is The Culture Class by Jean Donaldson. His assistant, Julie Shaw, loved Clicking With Your Dog by Peggy Tillman. She’s even written a review of it on Amazon. Copies of both these titles were piled in her office and are musts for the dedicated dog owner.
mary said on June 2, 2006 at 1:49 pm
I’ve got a pretty large fenced yard, so the dogs have designated one area the pooping spot. They only go over there behind the half dead avocado tree for one stinky reason. It does make clean up easier. What’s weird is every dog I’ve had since I moved into this house twenty years ago has used that part of the yard ( and no, that’s not what half killed the avocado tree). It must have the scent of twenty years and six dogs going for it.
Dorothy said on June 2, 2006 at 2:01 pm
Augie refuses to poop in our yard as well, just like Spriggy. And one of our previous dogs, Domino (a nutcase border collie) used to poop in the yards of the dogs that were barking at her from inside the house. Mike swore he saw her put up her middle digit a few times on one of her front paws. At least the look in her eyes seemed to say that!
And I can’t force you guys and gals to read Marley and Me, but I’m telling you, it was a thoroughly enjoyable book. They DID take Marley to obedience class. Just didn’t work. Same thing with my dog. He failed miserably. I think some dogs are just not that easily trained. (In my dog’s case we think it might have something to do with the fact he was shot in the front left leg at approximately 3 months of age. He’s really only a handful when we walk him and he sees other dogs.)
I have lent the book to my boss (and her husband), two co-workers and a neighbor, and everyone loved it. There is a reason it is a best seller. Honestly it’s a very funny book, and Marley has redeeming qualities, many in fact. The “world’s worst dog” is not really written as fact, but I think it was more tongue in cheek.
Connie said on June 2, 2006 at 2:06 pm
My elderly male Shih Tzu sees his lil fenced in suburban yard as his big world. He stalks the perimeter fence endlessly. He rarely gets walked, and when he does his only desire is to sniff and pee on every mailbox in the neighborhood. And he hates water with a passion, won’t go swimming at lake or pool. You can stand in ankle deep lake water holding him in your arms, and he is doing a frantic air dog paddle.
My friend’s neighbor not only has one of those pick up after your dog signs on his tree, he put up a hook and keeps it filled with plastic grocery sacks to use for that purpose.
nancy said on June 2, 2006 at 2:08 pm
My old horse trainer — who had a sideline in dogs — said one of the wisest things ever about Labs. He said he wished the L.L. Bean catalog would stop using them as models and photographing them lying quietly on hearthside dog beds, because it gave people the wrong idea about their essential nature: “If you have the time and energy to run them about 60 miles a day, they’re just fine. Otherwise, forget it.”
At least Jack Russells are often photographed either a) in motion; or b) looking at the camera with a homicidal gleam in their eyes. Although God knows people have made mistakes about their essential nature a time or two.
Danny said on June 2, 2006 at 2:34 pm
I see people making that mistake about Jack Russells several times a year on one of my regular biking routes. Its a semi-wooded area with two paths side by side, a paved one for the bikes and pedestrains and a dirt one for equestrain. Occassionally, someone gets the inclination to walk their JR sans leash. That last about 5 minutes until the errant owner comes to the realization that their dog WILL chase every bike and horse that it sees, risking its own life and the safety of others.
I’ve come upon the scene several times as owners are red-facedly leashing their hounds to the curses of a horse or bike rider.
nancy said on June 2, 2006 at 3:32 pm
My other trainer, Robin, had a JR she absolutely loved, and worked very hard breaking her of the horse-chasing habit. However, one day a horse kicked up its heels in a lesson and Triscuit charged. The next thing she saw was a white blur flying through the air; the horse made a solid connection. Triscuit landed, and Robin rushed up to her. The dog was motionless and, she figured, probably dead. As she stood over the prone form, wailing, Triscuit raised her head, blinked a few times, got up, shook herself and went back to where she’d been resting. Never chased a horse again.
Mindy said on June 2, 2006 at 3:32 pm
The classifieds in dog magazines always feature a large ad by an established Jack Russell group. It screams: The Jack Russell is not the dog for everyone! Learn before you buy! Their ad is usually above the one for the JRT rescue association.
My dog is very thoughtful and considerate of where he poops. He prefers to do it on our walks but has learned to use the roadside or empty lots in the subdivision where we walk most days. In the state parks when he’s off leash he’ll pick a spot well away from the trail. I bought lots of poop bags when my crazy Lab was my walking companion but now I rarely use them.
mary said on June 2, 2006 at 6:12 pm
My lab seeks out the JRs for running buddies when we go to off leash parks. They tear around like crazy, then slow down and check out every human like little maitre ds of the dog park. My great dane seems to zero in on female poodles. He follows them around looking goofy. One really gorgeous standard cocoa poodle named Dakota does sort of supermodel aloofness act around him, which only gets him more intrigued.
Connie said on June 3, 2006 at 12:04 am
If you’ve never had the chance to enjoy all the answers to the important question, “how many dogs does it take to change a light bulb?” Check out one version at http://www.resteddoginn.ca/lightbulb.php . I have always thought the breed personalities are nailed in these answers. Jack Russell terrier’s answer: I’ll just pop it in while I’m bouncing off the walls and furniture.
basset said on June 3, 2006 at 11:13 pm
a Shih Tzu is not a dog.
and if we had a dog poop house in my neighborhood, I would be tempted to drop a steaming coil in her yard myself just for spite.
Futz said on June 4, 2006 at 1:39 pm
The reel-type dog leashes aren’t recommended by dog trainers because they encourage the dog to strain at his leash. The best one we’ve found for controlling the dog without too much fuss or muss on either end is the gentle leader leash, which has a halter that goes over the snout. Looks something like a muzzle but isn’t tight enough for that purpose.
jcburns said on June 4, 2006 at 11:08 pm
Ah, this is why people have weblogs. To discuss the evacuation habits of dogs!