herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

Dog Whisperer, I hate your guts

Our puppy-training is running rapidly out of puppy.

That is to say, while we continue to try to train, the word 'puppy' describes less and less this worryingly-larger, willfully-disobedient, incontinent horror that now causes us to approach the kitchen floor in the morning with all the eagerness of an Ebola nurse.

This, I think glumly, shoulder to the mop once more, shouldn't be called 'housebreaking your dog'. It should be called 'dog breaking your house'.

When I was a kid, you trained your dog in a week. Back then, the accepted course of action was to shove their face in it and give them a tap on the nose with a newspaper.

As a society, we have moved on. Now we must consider our dogs' feelings. We must reason with them; employ a system of rewards rather than resorting to harsh words. After all, you wouldn't swat your infant child with a newspaper for mistaking the hall rug for a plastic potty, would you?

"Wouldn't I?" I mutter aloud, scrolling through web-pages of this sort of advice, much of which seems to be written by American women who use smiley faces for punctuation. I finally switch the screen off when I read the words 'fur-babies', which makes me want to wash my eyes out with soap.

I look over at our own dubious pupil in the evidently baffling intricacies of outdoor toiletry. She blinks back balefully with eyes that do not seem to say, 'Show me the way, oh master, for with your patience, I shall succeed'. Rather, 'Soon as you close that door, buddy, me and my backside are redecorating'.

I go back to my research with a sigh. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned, no-nonsense, dog-training TV celebrity Barbara Woodhouse? "She wouldn't have any of this," I tell the dog. "She'd have you squatting outdoors with a roll of paper over one paw and a can of aerosol in the other."

Alas, the first article I find informs me that the methods employed by the Rathfarnham-born disciplinarian from my Noel Edmunds-era Swap Shop school days, have been largely disproved - barking orders at your dog 'could cause them long-term mental trauma'.

Perhaps this is how The Dog Whisperer got his name. I look over at the dog again. "Please," I whisper. "Stop crapping all over the house."

I switch the computer back on and type 'Dog Whisperer' into the search prompt. A photograph of the TV star pops up. The photo shows him on roller-blades being pulled along by a dog. This is the moment I realise that he can't help me. That photo, will never be me. I'll never be him.

I'm consumed suddenly by an entirely unreasonable, very childish wave of hatred for The Dog Whisperer.

"Get out," I tell the dog, who does. I close the back door, shutting her in the garden. "Have your psychiatrist send me the bill," I mutter hoarsely before getting back to bleaching the kitchen again.

I try to remember how we trained our other, older dog - who, by the way, looks on all of this with due disdain and is of no help whatsoever.

"I'll tell you how you did it," says my wife when I ask her. "You didn't. I did. I spent half my life in that kitchen. If the dog did her business on the floor, I threw her out."

suffering

"Do you think she suffers from any long-term mental trauma?" I ask. My wife looks at me in a way that makes me want to clasp my hands in front of me protectively. "I'm the one suffering from long-term mental trauma," she says, "from putting up with you lot."

We decide we need a little holiday and book a room at a hotel. Before we go, we take the dogs on their long, daily walk through dense woods. We bring extra bags to pick up after the one in training but, as usual, we don't need them.

"It's like she's holding it all in 'til she gets back to the kitchen," I observe ruefully.

Before taking off on our trip, I buy a huge, chewy dog treat and wait by the kitchen window hopefully. Finally, the dog squats. I run out and give her the treat. Tail wagging, she takes it.

"I think we're on to something," I grin.

The next day, after a blissful retreat that features, in particular, no kitchen floor to slop out in the morning, we call home to check in.

"Was there any mess today?" asks my wife. "Really?" And for a wonderful micro-second, against all hope, I bask in the heady warmth of actual achievement.

Regimen and reward, I smile. Nailed it.

"Oh? Sick as well?" continues my wife, phone to her ear. "Probably that chewy treat. Yes. Would you like to say hello to your father?" She hands me the phone.

"Tell me all about it," I sigh, clutching my face. "But do me a favour. Whisper."

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