Thursday, December 04, 2008

All Dogs Need Some Training!

Our book today is All Dogs Need Some Training by the wise and wonderful Liz Palika, a slim volume from 1997 that contains more simple, straightforward sense than most dog-books manage to display in five times the length.

I know in the past I've pronounced here at Stevereads that I myself am the only non-canine on Earth who should ever presume to write about dogs, but it's not a perfect world, and Liz Palika comes as close to that gold standard as any of you ever will. This book is written from a depth of experience working with and training all kinds of dogs - it's perfect for the first-time dog-owner and the long-time veteran.

Nevertheless, there's a serious flaw running throughout the book, and that flaw is most obvious in the delightful Pam Posey-Tanzey illustrations that crop up every few pages throughout All Dogs Need Some Training.

As some of you may know, I myself opt for virtually no formal training of my own dogs - never have. I teach each newcomer two things: 1) to pay attention to the established dogs who're already here (something they would do anyway, so it's not really hard), and 2) the word 'No' (which means "instantly stop everything you're doing - don't pick and choose, just literally freeze in place)(it's a wonderful all-purpose command, although of course it's to be used sparingly). Usually, that's sufficient - newcomers quickly pick up all the rest.

My reason for such a minimal approach couldn't be simpler: dogs die. They live their lives with a vibrant honesty that humans can't match on their best day, and they lavish enthusiasm on everything, but their metabolisms burn out in hardly any time at all. In a mere ten years, that squirming, bounding puppy is stoutly middle-aged, and things happen with lightning speed after that - by age fifteen, they're very, very old: they don't jump anymore, they don't run around anymore, and they begin to look a little bit haunted. Those of you who've had dogs live longer than fifteen years know what I'm talking about: past that point, they are pure gifts to those who know them, as close to wisdom as their dim and lunging kind ever come. The owner of a sixteen-year-old dog is living with a purified being, a worldly little saint.

Given such a tiny window, I've never seen the point in laying down lots of rules. If that means a very young dog ends up eating a sizable fraction of my possessions (this has happened to me countless times, including one puppy who displayed a taste only for Superman-related items; T-shirts, rolled-up posters, comic books, statues ... all gone in the course of one very Kryptonite summer) before he settles down, so what? I can get more possessions - but I'll never have that dog again, and that dog will be old and stiff, and then gone, in hardly any time at all. Considering the blazing amounts of joy that dog (and all dogs) is going to give me in that time (and considering how many natural freedoms I must take from those dogs - the freedom to hunt, to mate, even to walk around outside at will and unchaperoned), it seems monstrously ungrateful to impose a whole bunch of arbitrary restrictions.

Liz Palika fundamentally disagrees with all that, of course. In her very sane, very rational world-view, the sooner you start training your dog (always patiently, always with love, as she points out over and over again), the happier both you and the dog will be. And her book is full of sensible, easy-going approaches to that training.

All of which would be great, if it weren't for one problem. One fat, smelly, long-eared, flatulent, bossy, clueless problem.

You can probably spot it in Pam's drawings, can't you?

For instance, take the illustration of a human owner warmly embracing her adorable dog. Heartwarming, right? But in that picture, the dog in question is smiling and reciprocating the embrace, when in reality that dog would not only be ignoring the human (as long as the hugging continued unabated) but would be positioned not next to the human but squarely, immovably on top of the human - and not just on top of the human, but on top of the softest, most vulnerable part of the human available. In the real world version of that picture, the human wouldn't be smiling - she'd be cross-eyed in panic with 90 pounds of smelly lard positioned on top of her open throat. And in that real world scenario, she would be crossly expected to keep on hugging the dog, even while she violently asphyxiated.

Or what about that drawing of the human rubbing the dog's belly? Again, touching stuff - but not in the real world. In the real world, the dog would still be accepting an elaborate belly-rub, but the facial expression wouldn't be grateful happiness - nooooo! It would be the bored, slightly impatient ennui of an absolute monarch receiving the adoration she more than anyone else knows she deserves. And if the belly-rubbing stopped, she would heave herself to her stubby little feet and unleash a torrent of rumbling growls at the human who had dared to stop. On good days, these growls would be accompanied by artillery-like volleys of flatulence. On bad days, they would be punctuated by snapping lunges at the loving human owner's face.

And then there's that adorable shot of the dog being examined at the vet's ... sweet, isn't it? But not in the real world! In the real world, that dog would be splayed across the examining table, hysterically crying, spatulate paws flailing fatly in all directions, bovine face wrinkled in abject panic (seismic farting, needless to say), while four burly vet-techs grappled with the dog's enormous tub of blubber as it squirmed in terror from a stethoscope. In reality, the owner would send the vet's office flowers afterwards and spend the next five visits apologizing to everybody.

Things are no better in the book's actual text. Take this:

Why did you get a dog? If you're like most people, you wanted a dog to be a companion, a friend, a confidante, and a protector. You probably wanted someone to play with, and perhaps even a jogging partner. That's asking a lot of anyone; even our human best friends couldn't be all of these things. However, if you help him, a dog can be all of those things to you.

Unless of course the dog in question doesn't care about anything you'd want to confide, unless the confidence is how much you love her. Unless of course the dog in question only has the energy to play for five minutes at a stretch and is so stupid she often forgets in mid-stretch what she's doing. Unless of course the dog in question couldn't protect a fly and wouldn't jog with you if your ass was covered in dog treats.

Or what about this:

Pet owners are more likely to survive a heart attack than people who do not own pets. Pet owners have a more positive outlook on life and have more friends. Researchers also say that pet owners have lower blood pressure than people who do not own pets.

Unless of course the pet in question is so obstinate, obtuse, and just plain dumb that she routinely walks into large, stationary objects ... and then growls at them for assaulting her. Unless of course your 'positive outlook on life' has been soured by having a 90-pound elephant seal stomp herself onto your lap, ignoring all pleas for mercy (and commands to stop, obviously) and gradually drifting off to sleep while your internal organs get squished to jelly and your most prized giblets slowly go numb. Unless the 'more friends' you're supposed to have all found other people to befriend after one too many get-togethers was spiked by nasal, guttural growling and Aurora Borealis farts.

And then there's this:

Don't doubt for a minute that Champ can think; he is capable of learning the names of many different items and people. Not only is this a great game for Champ, but it can come in handy around the house. Tell Champ to find your keys or your shoes. Send Champ after the remote control to the television, or to go find Dad. Plus, it's great fun to show off to your friends!

Unless, that is, those friends have already left, gagging and tearing up, because your apartment has a higher methane content than the atmosphere of Jupiter. Unless, that is, your 'Champ' is so stupid even first-time observers notice it in about ten minutes. Unless, that is, a new roommate, after very little exposure, feels compelled to whisper to you in gravely confidential terms, "I think there's something wrong with your dog."

And there's this last, most bitter item:

When Champ does something right and you tell him "Good boy! Yeah!" and pop a treat in his mouth, he will be much more likely to do the same thing again.

Yes indeed. Unless it's been seven years and you're still waiting for him to do something right. Liz doesn't talk about such a predicament, and Pam doesn't draw it. Probably it's too horrible for them to contemplate.

1 comment:

Beepy said...

I'd be tempted to tell you that maybe you'd have a Champ if only you believed in training your dogs. I'd be so tempted but I only have to look at my own little bundle of "adoration" to know that sometimes there's nothing one can do. When your dog is asked not to return after one training session, you've just got to face the truth.

But at least Reese doesn't fart...