Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Newspaper column

While dining out a few months ago, my husband and I spotted a vaguely familiar face at the table next to us. After some intense debate, we realized it was our dog's obedience trainer. As overzealous first-time pet owners, we had hired her for personal house calls.

We wanted Toby to be a well-behaved dog so badly that we were steadfast with her teachings. We practiced each command over and over, but even the best intentions sometimes fall victim to circumstance. Her reward-based techniques required constant access to treats, which after awhile became tiresome when I realized all of my pockets smelled like freeze-dried liver.

Fortunately for us, by the time our training gusto waned to an occasional exuberant "Good boy!" and a pat on the head, Toby had picked up most of it and obliged more out of habit than anything.

The result produced a wonderful, loving animal who follows the rules when we really need him to. In exchange, we overlook the fact that he sometimes steals an entire block of cheese off the living room table when we have friends over.

But every year when summer rolls around, we're reminded that there is one area the trainer failed to prepare us for: the pool.

When Toby was a puppy, we couldn't wait to introduce him to the water. We wanted him to love swimming as much as we do. So we'd take turns dipping him in on one side of the shallow end at my mother-in-law's in-ground and encourage him to paddle to the person waiting on the other side.

Looking back, I wish we had just let him remain in the shade with his supreme air of disinterest.

Instead, we created a monster.

Our tiny terrier loves the water so much that he turns into a tense, raging lunatic with complete disregard to anything other than the goal of being submerged. He's not even patient enough to wait for someone to remove the solar cover, choosing instead to walk right on top of it until we eventually coax him back to the cement.

Then the fun really begins. He barks when someone dives in as if to say, "HEY! ME FIRST!" Then he circles the perimeter with the honed precision of a lion hunting prey, trying to get up the nerve to take the plunge himself. If we neglect to ease him into the water before his patience runs out, he waits for a floaty noodle to get within reach, nabs it with his teeth and starts shredding.

Sure, he can perform some pretty cool poolside tricks like volleying a beachball on his nose. And he looks absolutely adorable marooned on a raft. Plus, watching him do consecutive laps is pretty impressive for his small size.

But, for the most part, he's a gigantic pain in the rear until we pack up, towel him off and get in the car to head home. Then he becomes our loving, mindful dog again.

I never thought I'd be happy that we don't have a pool in our own backyard, but Toby makes me ecstatic about it. The more to mow, the merrier.

We stopped and said hello to the trainer on the way out of the restaurantthat night, but maybe we should've asked if she makes personal pool calls, too.


the plainsman said...

Toby both enjoys the water and also wants to be in on all the fun, but pools are much nicer in other's back yards, away from home, especially with a baby and waterdog.

Dogs often don't know their limits and some have difficulty getting out of some pools if unattended.

On the other hand, bears seem to have no problem with them.

See, better not having one!

TarHeelKate said...

Haha, this sounds so funny I really wanted to see a photo or two at the bottom! But your words also paint excellent pictures. :)

Kristin said...

my dog HATES water.
it's kinda funny =P


Ray said...

HA! I'd love to see a video of that trainer, trying to give Toby doggy manners on poolside behavior. I don't think she'd stand a chance of getting him to do anything, but drench her in water. Hehe. ;o)