An object-lesson (updated)

Today I took Cooper to the park, where we immediately ran into some of his friends in one of the fields. I let him off the leash to play, but I soon learned that the field had been liberally “seeded” with butcher’s scraps for the dogs. Cleo, the alpha dog of the group, found a bone and kept the other dogs – including a very eager Cooper – away, so I wasn’t worried at first; but eventually our boy got a scrap of meat and gristle off Cleo’s bone while she was distracted and ran away with it. Abby and I don’t like his eating anything in the park, because “anything” usually means poo, so I chased after him shouting “Leave it! Leave it!” but of course he just kept dodging me while desperately trying to chew and swallow his prized snack. (He really is a little glutton that way.) Finally I got him in my grip and tried to pull his jaws apart, but his final gulp – on his back with my hand firmly around his neck to pin him down – showed me it was already too late.

I let him up and he ran off again to play with the other dogs, and soon enough he found another bone, this one a smaller type. Abby and I particularly don’t like him to eat these because we’re afraid a bone like this will splinter in his throat (although millions of years’ worth of dogs have managed them successfully, so we’re just being Jewish parents), so again I took off after him yelling “Leave it!” At one point I slipped in the frost; angrily, I smacked my tree branch-cum-walking-stick-cum-anti-dog attack stick on the ground to frighten him, I suppose, into submitting to my vastly superior intelligence and will. All I got for it was a shattered tree branch, and I looked like a raving lunatic to the passers-by as I chased this adorable but panicked little mutt around the trees.

After a few more minutes scrambling, he slipped and dropped the bone and I got it. The other dogs ran up and they all bolted off to play. I let him run around a bit more, but when he came back sniffing for his bone, my anger resurged and I grabbed him, put the leash back on, and took him home – 20 minutes earlier than I’d planned – for some training. I put the pinch collar on him, leashed him up, and scattered dog treats in the yard. When he lunged for one, I said “Leave it!” and pulled him back sharply. He tried again, I said “Leave it!” and this time he pulled himself back. In response, I gave him a treat. We did this again and again, and he continued to leave the dog treats, so I advanced to using bits of brie as bait; after the first attempt and pull-back, he just eyed the brie warily as we walked past and left it alone completely when I told him to do so. (Whether this means I’m teaching him to leave it, or just giving him an aversion to brie, remains to be told.) And strangely, I found myself enjoying the training session, and I think he began to learn something.

Obviously, we still have a lot more training to do before I’ll be able to get him to ignore a big steamin’ pile of cow s*** in response to my command while he’s off the leash, but this morning I learned a few things:

  1. If the playing field is level, Cooper’s determination and ability to eat something will be stronger than my determination and ability to stop him. Animal instinct trumps an Ivy League education.
  2. The dog is only going to behave as well as he’s trained to behave, so it’s really up to me.
  3. Getting angry at the dog doesn’t help, and my yelling and chasing him in public only makes me look like an idiot.

Hopefully, thus ends our dog-related object-lesson for today.

Epilogue: In the afternoon, I saw Cooper lunging for a foil wrapper on the floor. “Leave it,” I said, and he immediately pulled back and looked up at me. Excited at his progress, I praised him and gave him a snack, which he gobbled down. “Now,” I thought, “let’s go for the real test.” I took the bone that I’d confiscated at the park from my jacket pocket and set it on the floor. He rushed toward it, but I said “Leave it” in a firm, confident tone of voice and he stopped short and looked at me for his next cue. “Good boy!” I cried and gave him another snack that he gobbled down as quickly as he had the first – and then he snatched the bone off the floor and ran under the coffee table with it.

Lesson 4: He really is a little bastard.