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I Don’t Train Dogs. They Train Me.

I Don’t Train Dogs. They Train Me.

As I was flipping through the channels the other night, I caught some of The Westminster Dog Show. It was held back in February but is so wildly popular that it’s being re-aired this week. I watched the perfectly coiffed canines prancing around the ring and was hit with a profound feeling of failure.

I’ve had dogs most of my life. Not one was obedient. 

A version of this column ran in The Virginian-Pilot in October of 2004.


Few things in life are as exciting as getting a urine specimen from a poodle.

I should know. I've been working on this project for more than a week.

Sure, there are other aspects of dog ownership that require a sense of adventure. Trying to give your dog a pill, for instance. Or attempting to dislodge her from the backseat in the vet's parking lot.

Having attempted all of the above, I would rank sneaking up on a piddling poodle among my most exasperating doggie endeavors.

It all began when I took my miniature mutt for her annual checkup a couple of weeks ago. It ended about 200 bucks later with me holding a bewildering little instrument and a Ziploc bag.

In the examining room, the vet glanced at his clipboard. "She's 8?" he asked. "She sure hasn't calmed down much, has she?"

No, she hasn't. And you'd think that a really nervous animal would spontaneously provide a few drops of wee-wee for the vet.

You would be wrong.

"Tell you what," his assistant suggested. "How about you get a sample and bring it back?"

"She'll never pee in a cup," I cried.

Silly me. Dogs don't need cups.

The onus is on the owner, who is asked to simply collect the, er, sample by chasing the dog around with a little sponge stuck on the end of a short stick.

Easier said than done. For days now, I've been a sponge monkey, dogging my fleet-footed canine around the yard. Every time I close in, she stops what's she's doing and runs away. It's become a game.

I know, I know. This is all my fault. Had I taken just a little time to train her when she was a puppy, she'd come when I call. Shoot, she might even be able to shake hands and roll over.

An 8-year-old dog who doesn't know a single trick and will not even sit on command is an embarrassment. But it's the sort of dog I've had all my life.

My family loved dogs - big ones - but never followed through on training. Oh, sure, we'd give it a shot for a day or two. Until we ran out of Snausages. Or patience.

We'd look longingly at people with obedient dogs on leashes. Oh, how those dogs seemed to strut with pride. Their masters beamed.

Meanwhile, we were dragged everywhere by our oversized dog delinquents.

"You never want to break their spirits," my father would say, as one of our dogs yanked his arm from the socket.

As a consequence, we shared our small house with a series of spirited, hairy galoots who brazenly stole roasts off counters, begged food from the table and slept with us on our tiny beds.

We kept these lovable losers long past their prime, too.

We couldn't bear to put them to sleep, so we lived with unsightly animals sporting really big tumors and missing important body parts.

Like tails and eyes.

As an adult, I was dogless for many years. But after the kids begged and wheedled for a puppy, we got Taffy.

All in all, it's worked out well. She's good-natured, dumb and doesn't shed.

I'd tell you more, but she's bouncing for the door. Gotta grab my sponge-on-a-stick and give chase.



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