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:
- 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.
- The dog is only going to behave as well as he’s trained to behave, so it’s really up to me.
- 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.