Monday, December 15, 2008

November 18, 2008 "Dog Woes"

When Wolfie was seven months old, one day a bunch of people came to the house for a meeting followed by dinner. I put him and nine-year-old Lexi on down-stays in the living room, and they lay like statues until, at the end of the evening, the guests begged to pay their respects to them. My dogs, they exclaimed, were the best trained they'd ever seen.


Those were the good old days.


Wolfie's second birthday is less than two weeks away, and I'm sorry to say that, in the matter of greeting guests politely, he's acting like a two-month old puppy who happens to weigh 90+ pounds.


Here's how things are supposed to work: somebody knocks on the door. The dogs rush to see who it is, making an impressive noise. Since they're both German Shepherds, the noise is quite impressive, and they know it. I put them on down-stays several yards from the door, then let the person in. I put the person on stand-stay by the door. I go to Lexi (rank hath its privileges) and say, in a calm, almost indifferent tone, “Would you like to say hello?” Lexi walks over with her ears back and her tail wagging and gets petted by the guest. When I say “Enough!” she goes away and takes a nap, or whatever.


Then it's Wolfie's turn. I call him to me and have him walk quietly and serenely by my side until we reach the guest, whereupon Wolfie sits and gets a bit of petting. Again, I say “Enough!” and he goes off to do his thing, leaving us humans alone.


For weeks we practiced this ritual whenever anybody showed up at our door, and had it pretty well in hand. And then last week various people showed up three days in a row and, out of the blue, the dogs' behavior was abysmal.


The trouble started at the point where Wolfie was supposed to walk calmly and serenely towards the guest. Instead, he would plunge forward, mobbing the person and saying, to all effects, Where, oh where have you been all my life? Pet me, touch me, take me away with you forever!


While I was correcting Wolfie and hauling him back so we could start the guest approach again, Lexi, who wasn't born yesterday, would circle back and sneak in some extra petting from the guest, who so far hadn't been released from his stand-stay at the front door. This petting bonus would of course strike Wolfie as grossly unfair, making him all the more determined to reach the guest before the supply of affection ran out. It was chaotic, and, for me, humiliating. My two dogs were out of control. When the last set of people showed up, I shamefully abdicated: I shut the dogs away, and answered the door.


What's with my dogs? German Shepherds are supposed to be one-(wo)man dogs, polite but aloof with strangers. Yet Lexi and Wolfie have never met a person they haven't adored. We used to blame this on Lexi's unknown ancestry (she was a pound puppy), but Wolfie's father came straight from Germany, and there are serious Schutzhund dogs all over Wolfie's pedigree. The only good thing I can say about Wolfie and Lexi on this subject is that they have never jumped up on anyone.


Since the dogs are so friendly, why not, you ask, just let them have their way with guests? That might work if they were, say, Pugs. But two big specimens of what Cesar Millan calls a“powerful breed” bounding forward with the chummiest intentions can be alarming, even to dog lovers. I've got to get the guest-greeting ritual under control.


As a good (former) Catholic, before considering the situation I did an examination of conscience. And all became clear. Over the last several months, Wolfie, once a callow adolescent, has become unbelievably charming. He's big, he's sweet, he (finally!) clearly loves me. He minds beautifully inside the house, and pretty much outdoors. He lays his big head on my knee and looks into my eyes. He sighs, and throws himself at my feet. Who could resist? He's so tall that I can, without bending, pet him whenever he's at my side, which means that he gets a lot of “unearned” petting. Which, according to some schools of thought, makes him think that he can get away with anything. That he is, heaven help us, the boss.


I recall reading something about a last spurt of rebelliousness as a dog reaches the age of two. But that's just an average, and German Shepherds don't reach true maturity until they're at least three. Is there no end to this? Can't I just relax and “Let go, let Dog”? Is eternal vigilance the price of dog ownership?


I'm afraid it is. Otherwise, it wouldn't be so interesting.


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