Sunday, May 11, 2008

Where the dogs and the antelope play

*This is my last puppy column for at least a week, I promise.*

When my parents came to visit last weekend to meet Memphis, the floppy-eared, multibreed puppy that has recently taken residence in our home, they brought with them a squeaky rubber chicken that has not stopped squeaking since they left. When people call the house now, it must sound like a nervous clown is pacing in the background.

My folks hit it off swimmingly with their new granddog, but during their visit I got the feeling that, in the space of just one generation, dog ownership has become an entirely different animal.

“How did you housebreak Ginger?” I asked them, referring to the golden retriever that they’d picked up as a puppy nearly thirty years ago.

Mom and Dad looked at each other and shrugged. “You know, I don’t really remember. We sure didn’t get up in the middle of the night, though,” Mom said.

It wasn’t that they couldn’t remember it in the way people can’t remember car crashes, which is about the only hope I’d ever have of forgetting the past month of playing personal assistant to a bladder with a carrying capacity that could easily be put to shame by your average tablespoon, it was that the whole thing was such a non-event that it didn’t even register for them anymore. Crate training might be the more effective way to housebreak a dog, but anyone who has gone through the experience is more likely to forget their first kiss or their last oil bill.

As we headed out onto the deck last weekend, I pulled Memphis aside so the humans could go first. When Dad looked at me, I explained, “The dominant dogs always go first. If you let your dog go out the door first, it thinks it’s the pack leader.”

He smiled and nodded, pretending that what I’d just said made perfect sense, even though a month ago I would have thought the notion pretty ridiculous as well. I imagine that when I turned back towards Memphis, he probably exchanged a glance with Mom that roughly equaled taking a finger and circling it around your temple.

When I was a kid, if a dog slobbered on you when you came home, didn’t destroy things with too much regularity and seemed vaguely aware that it had a name, you had yourself a good dog. People didn’t worry about being pack leaders or following their dogs around with plastic baggies. Growing up, I didn’t know many of my neighbors very well, but I knew all their dogs. Electric fences were for prisons and pastures, and Ginger and her compatriots roamed the countryside like four-legged Jack Kerouacs.

Mom and Dad raised a perfectly sweet and loving dog in Ginger without the benefit of the recent boom in the Dog Whisperer brand of pooch psychology that says humans must eat first, go up the stairs first, walk in front of the dog on the leash and win all staring contests, lest the dog think it is the one bringing home the Beggin’ Strips. A dog will also think it’s the boss if you don’t constantly maintain a calm and patient demeanor, communicating through your posture and body language that you are the lead dog, ignoring the common sense that might otherwise suggest that the lead dog rarely has to pry open clamped jaws to rescue its snowman-festooned underwear.

Kara and I are a bit skeptical as well, but we’re not willing to take any chances. It would be disastrous if a dog became the pack leader of our household. A canine couldn’t possibly know how to do the important pack-leading activities that Kara and I perform on a daily basis, like reading novels with bare-chested Scotsmen on the covers and becoming gunnery sergeants in Call of Duty 4, respectively.

You can crank up the voltage on Mike Todd’s collar at


  1. Pack leader? LOL

    All kidding aside, the best tip is to focus on not ever feeding her scraps from the table, EVER, and all humans eating's very difficult to do, but is the easiest way for dogs Memphis' age to really grasp just who is top dog. Hope that helps a bit.

    Memphis is a beautiful addition to your family.

  2. Pack leader??? Dude, I have a dog and I don't know what the F you're talking about. Just because Clara and Moe didn't let you walk through the door first when you were growing up doesn't mean you should do that to your dog. She may grow up with a Mike Todd complex. She'll start playing video games in all of her free time rather than communicating with the outside world. Poor puppy.

  3. yup I'm with the old school I guess. My dogs go out before me, potty training is no big deal, and they don't have no fancy crates, they sleep at the foot of the bed or on the bed.

    I got me a bunch of good dogs too.

  4. Loon -- Thanks, dude! You just reminded me - I'm looking forward to getting up to Maine and hearing some loons this summer. I promise not to feed them from the table.

    Perlson -- Dude, did the guy whose dog can't climb steps just give me crap?

    Burf -- The old school way seems to work just fine. Dogs were cool for a long time before people starting stuffing 'em in crates.

    Russ -- Well, now I know you didn't even read it.

  5. Are you really coming to Maine? Please say yes! Love your dog stories~

  6. Sheri -- Thanks dude! Yeah, my family still goes to Rangeley for a week every summer. Ever been there? Nice place. 'Til we get there, anyway. Damn tourists.