TRAINING GOES TO THE DOGS … AND OWNERS

There is a dog show in Detroit this weekend, and 60,000 people are expected to attend, and 3,000 dogs, and 163 breeds, and we won’t even count the plastic bags and scoopers.

And at some point during the show, as thousands of spectators cheer, the prized pooches will walk alongside their owners, in lockstep, in gentle canter, paws bouncing as if on marshmallows, coats groomed, heads erect, spines straight.

It reminds me of the day I trained my dog.

In the driveway.

I had paid a trainer to come and work with my pup, a beautiful golden retriever who I called Elvis, because, in the end, he wasn’t nothing but a hound dog, even if I did pay the trainer 50 bucks an hour.

Personally, I thought, for that kind of cash, trainer and dog should go out behind the house, and when they return, the dog not only fetches the remote control and never again goes poo-poo on the carpet, it also speaks French.

Au contraire, my terrier.

Role reversals in training

As it turns out, the trainer trains YOU. Trains you to talk. Trains you to tug the leash. Trains you to make certain sounds with your voice (including, and I swear this is true, mimicking the low, guttural growl that its mother made when, as a puppy, your dog was nursing too hard. This apparently is the only “no” a dog ever pays attention to, figuring that, if it doesn’t, Mama Dog might sell Baby Dog to a kennel. Of course, the dog winds up sold anyhow, thereby shattering its faith in humanity and creating the facial expression dogs display when you coo, “Here, boy! Here, boy!” and the dog’s eyes narrow as if to say, “Right, fatso. Who you calling boy?”).

But I digress.

The point is, here I was, alone with Elvis, in our driveway. Well, my driveway. His name wasn’t on the mortgage.

And I told him, “Sit.”

And he sat.

And as I stepped back, I said, “Stay.”

And he got up.

And he ran to me.

And I gave him a biscuit.

OK, I wasn’t supposed to do that. But I liked the fact that he ran to ME and not, say, the neighbors’ garbage can. So I slipped him a biscuit. Big deal. Shoot me.

A well-deserved nap

Now, as the day progressed, we got better and better. Elvis would sit, and I would say, “Stay,” and I’d backpedal three steps, four steps, eight steps. Eventually, Elvis gave a look like, “Whoa, if he gets any farther away, he might find another dog for those biscuits!” and he jumped up and ran to me.

But after several hours – and I remember this because the same neighbors drove down the street and later up the street, staring at me as if I was crazy – eventually, I was standing several houses away, and Elvis was STAYING PUT! Amazing. This training stuff worked. I had visions of one day entering my pooch in a dog show, too. He would be known as “the dog who stays.” Champion class.

However, as I daydreamed, I realized I had moved so far down the block, that I was now screaming “STAY!” just so Elvis could hear me. And he had grown so small in my vision that I really couldn’t tell if he heard me or not.

And then I saw him lie down.

And he yawned.

And I realized, if he’s bored, then who am I kidding? Let’s just reward him with a biscuit and call it a day. And I yelled, “HERE, BOY!”

And he didn’t move.

I think he was asleep.

Anyhow, from that day forward, I considered Elvis trained. From time to time, I would make that growling noise the trainer taught me, and Elvis would look at me as if to say, “Mom?”

But he stopped pooping inside. And he stayed, pretty much, when he had to, and that was good enough for me.

Elvis died a few years ago. I have yet to replace him. Too sad. But if you go to the dog show this weekend, and you see those well-groomed, erect-spined, best-of-breed models trotting around and speaking French, just know that, for one afternoon, that same thrill was experienced in a driveway in a Detroit suburb. And no tickets were required.

Just biscuits.

SIDEBAR

If you go

Today is the last day for the Detroit Kennel Club Dog Shows. The dogs will be exhibited from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets, which are sold at the door, are $12 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and children younger than 12. Family packs – with two adult and three children’s tickets – are $35.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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