[Opinion] - How Not To Train Your Dog

Last week, I was on vacation. And despite my best efforts to spend my week of solitude in complete isolation, away from the constant distracting presence of the internet, in an attempt to both relax and get some solid hours of writing in, all while either sitting in the middle of a lake or drinking Belgian beer (or some creative combination of the two), something usually transpires to shatter the peace of my furlough.

Last year it was an asshole. This year, it was Rufus.

Rufus was a dog with no training whatsoever, and that puppy mentality that stays with a full grown dog when the dumb ass owners decide that everything their dog does is adorable. Until, of course, it starts attacking children or attempts to recreate Homeward Bound all on it's own. And in all honesty, it wasn't Rufus that was the problem. It was his pair of prat owners, who spent days and days attempting to reprimand Rufus in their uniquely ineffective way, at a volume that allowed the entire lake to partake in Rufus' wrongdoing. And since they were my neighbours, I was treated to a front row seat to the idiocy.

Hit the jump for a microcosm of what my week turned out to be, rather than productive.

"Rufus, no!"

That was the refrain that penetrated my tranquility. I still hear it when I shut my eyes at night. I was hearing it out on the water even after they (thankfully) left at the end of the week, a phantom echo lodged in the more hallucinatory areas of my brain. The shrill, desperate call that signaled two simultaneous truths: Rufus, because he was a dog, had gotten into some mischief; and that his owners, being humans of very little brain, thought that somehow this catchphrase would stop him.

The troubles started before I even arrived. But first, the man of the hour: Rufus. A dog of indeterminate breeding, sleek black with the tip of his tail white, and that twenty yard stare that betrays an utter lack of facilities, common to most dogs (I'm going to pause here and apologize to any dog people reading this: these animals are, for the most part, stupid animals. I understand that they are loyal, and historically, without them our species probably have been devoured by cave bears or stepped on by ground sloths long ago. But that does not change the fact that every dog I have ever encountered has had roughly the same intelligence as a bag of rusted nails. And I include the three dogs I have myself owned in that tally). Rufus was gifted with an insatiable curiosity that, if found in a human, would result in the licking of lamp posts in winter time, and light sockets the rest of the year. Rufus was an adventurer, in that he blindly and regularly stepped off cliffs and ran full bore into fields beyond his line of sight. Rufus chases the cars that no one else can see.

The troubles, as I said, started before I arrived. On the other side of Rufus' dwelling was a pair of families that, between them, included nine girls all under the age of 10. Who, as children are wont to do, spent the entirety of their days playing on the dock and frolicking in the knee high waters at the shoreline. And Rufus, believing himself to be roughly the same size and shape as a squirrel, wanted to play too despite standing three feet at the shoulder and outweighing most of these girls while they were wet. I maintain that the only thing more dangerous than a vicious dog is a dog utterly unaware that is dangerous. Rufus was solidly in the latter category. I doubt he knows how to snarl, but to a tiny child, having him bounding towards, leaping and pawing and wanting to have fun, is an equally terrorizing experience.

"Rufus, no!"

Thus the first utterance rolled across the surface of the lake, lost in volume and effectiveness among the cauterizing screams of the children, as Rufus "played" with them. He "played" with them by running at and into them at full speed and running. He "played" with them by knocking them over, than standing on them while they were thrashing about in the water. He "played" with them by barking in their faces. He "played" and they screamed, and his owners stood on their dock and said, "Rufus, no!"

Why he wasn't leashed after this incident, I don't know (well, I do, and we're getting to that). And I understand that a dog is under no obligation to be leashed when on a person's private property. But that notion supposes that the dog has been trained to respect the idea of property. That it will, when unencumbered, stay close to home. Find a bit of shade and have a lie down. But Rufus knows not these things. He charts his own path, usually through a pocket of poison ivy. Rufus unchained is a free bird, man, who doesn't do what the man says. And what the man says is "Rufus, no!" What became apparent after the fiftieth or so usage of this command is that Rufus is 1) not familiar with his own name, and 2) has no idea what the sound "no" is meant to mean.

And this is the problem. It became very obvious that Rufus' owners have devoted exactly no man hours into training Rufus in anyway. So, I am no longer able to blame Rufus for his own, inherent stupidity. He is simply acting by his nature, a nature honed through generations of domestication and selective inbreeding that have resulted in a creature no longer capable of making reasonable decisions, and instead follows the instinctual Toucan Sam school of thought: he just follows his nose. And whatever happens to be making the most noise at the time. No, the blame can be laid entirely at his humans, and their inherent stupidity. The idea that, as he grew, he would somehow pick up on the proper behaviours, through some kind of observational doggy osmosis is at one end naive and the other end dangerous. If Rufus had an angry bone in his body, he'd be a real menace. One of those dogs you read about in the papers. Instead, he's helplessly inept while his owners are willfully negligent.

Rufus was free to roam the southern shore of the lake for the entire time I was there, and thankfully he seemed more inclined towards what was transpiring to the west of him, because he only crossed my property line once, just long enough to learn that discarded corn husk is not a doggy delicacy. No, he took to investigating the docks, and boats, and homes, and flower beds, and picnic tables, and small traumatized children of the rest of the lake. And either when the screams kicked off, or a half hour went by without Rufus causing some calamity in their own home, the owners would bolt to their deck, crane their heads in either direction, and shout those two little words that I had only just begun to forget.

"Rufus, no!"

Not, "Rufus, come." Not "let's go retrieve our dog, collar and leash him and when we get home enroll him in Emily Winthrop's Canine College." No, we'll say "no" in a tone that betrays more desperation than instruction, and hope that he understands that it means to "cease whatever malicious activities he is currently undertaking, and return promptly to his domicile of origin" for what should probably be a good thrashing, but more than likely will be a doggy biscuit.

On the fourth day, Rufus went missing. I am not a cruel man (despite certain claims to the contrary), and I wished no particular harm on Rufus. But I hoped this would mean some quiet. Quite the opposite occurred, as his owners spent the entire day circling a nearby football field, shouting "Rufus" as loudly as possible. Again, apparently in the belief that the familiar sound of their voice and the comfort of hearing his own name would summon him Beetlejuice-style back to their presence. This despite the fact that in my brief, marginal and indirect relationship, I had already determined that you could have recited a bean-curd recipe to Rufus, in Swahili, and it would have generated the same recognition in him that using his name did. And that, given his propensity for simply taking off after whatever looked like it might be fun, it was entirely possible that he started off after a butterfly that morning, and was currently half way to Vermont.

That his owners elected to pace the same piece of ground for several hours with no effort made to look any farther afield made me wonder two possibilities. The first was that Rufus was the brains of the operation. The second was that one of these two desperately didn't want Rufus found, and circling that field for an hour was the least-effort way of putting on a show, while secretly being overcome with joy to finally be rid of a dog that had turned out to be far more special than the relationship could manage.

Rufus came back, amazingly, on his own accord. Actually, he seemed rather surprised when he returned, so I'm given to believe that it was entirely accidental, and that he had simply been following a leaf caught in an updraft, and happened to wander back the way he came. In lending credence to my theory that at least one of his owners wanted him gone, there were no cries of happiness upon his return. No sound of adulation. Just an acceptance, a period of peace, then a crash from inside their cottage and that familiar refrain,

"Rufus, no!"
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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