Sunday, June 01, 2008

Can’t teach a new dog new tricks, either

My wife Kara finally got me to go to obedience school, but fortunately while we were there most of her attention was directed towards our new puppy Memphis.

I pictured obedience school as a big Chuck E. Cheese for dogs, where pooches frolic about and someone else teaches them to behave while you sit at the table, eating pizza and dispensing tokens. In reality, the dogs weren’t allowed anywhere near each other, and Kara and I were tasked with controlling what the teacher described as our “perpetual motion machine,” an animal so excited that any number of rabid wolverines would have been easier to teach to “leave it.”

The chairs in the room had been organized into pods, with room only for one dog per pod, along with its servants. Memphis whimpered and pranced, straining at her mangled, half-eaten leash, backing up and launching herself towards every other pod in rapid succession. I quickly downgraded my definition of success from leaving with an obedient dog to leaving with more than half a leash.

The dog in the next pod over glared at Memphis under the chairs, barking and baring its teeth. This was the dog that wanted to beat the other dogs up and take all their lunch money.

“Hey! A new friend!” Memphis thought, attempting a blast-off to go say hello.

A few weeks ago, when my sister’s otherwise very sweet cat tried to attack Memphis through a sliding glass door that was, thankfully, closed, Memphis wagged her tail as the cat hissed and slashed at the glass.

Excited, Memphis looked up at me as if to say, “Hey! A new friend!”

We’d had Memphis for nearly a month before we were able to take her off of house arrest. Until the endless series of puppy shots had been pumped into her, the three of us were under vet’s orders to stay cooped up, our house serving as one large doggy crate. That’s why puppies always seem so cute: the supply of them out in the open is artificially limited. It’s the same way diamonds stay expensive.

Having a dog that you can’t take off your property is like having a computer that has no internet. You can only keep yourself occupied with Spider Solitaire for so long. With the dog bouncing off of various household surfaces, I decided to break the rules, just a little, and walk her a few houses up the street.

One hundred feet into our adventure, a little Swiffer Wet Jet of a dog bolted out of the bushes, pausing in its yapping just long enough to attempt to nip Memphis on her tail. As I shooed the dog away and lamented my lack of chemical irritants with which to spray it, I looked down at Memphis, worried that she had just been permanently emotionally scarred.

She was wagging her tail in the direction of her assailant and looking at me as if to say, “Dude, my new friend has a bit of a temper.”

She seems to carry this attitude with her everywhere she goes, including when the head obedience instructor led her to the middle of the room to demonstrate, well, I’m not sure exactly what she had intended to demonstrate, but if it was futility, she picked the right dog.

With the instructor standing on the leash and snapping her fingers to get our dog’s attention, Memphis wagged her entire body, whipping her head from side to side as she tried to decide which new friend might enjoy a frantic and slobbery visit. In some areas of the world, decades are spent mastering a state of mind that allows one to pay attention to everything at nothing at once, a goal Memphis had achieved entirely by accident. Now if we could only get our little Zen master to lie down.

You can be Mike Todd’s new friend at


  1. Why, in the name of all that is holy and good, have I not been here in so long?

    I've missed you, little pretend brother....

    Thanks for the laughs, I needed them!

  2. ahhhhhhhhh it's puppy adhd. hehehehehehe

    I love dogs like that though, they just love and love some more.

  3. Tsk, Tsk, Tsk, Kara and Mike...Sounds as though you both are in need of pacing yourselves.

    After all, it takes a long time to learn all that Obedience School teaches, but please be patient.................some humans take longer.

  4. Miss Anne -- Good to have you back! Hope all is well.

    Burf -- Yeah, she's a good pooch. Only knows how to give love and various excretions.

    Loon -- We just had our second class this evening. I don't think these humans are going to graduate.

  5. My only experience of dogs these days is my bro-in-law's retriever Holly.

    When it comes to obedience, he swears by The Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan. Unless, of course, Holly does the exact opposite of what he wants her to do, in which case he swears AT him.

  6. JL -- Good to hear from you, man. Cesar's methods are pretty awesome when Cesar's the one doing them. Otherwise, dog cussing's probably the best bet.