Monday, January 12, 2009

Teaching new dogs old tricks

(originally published Dec. 31, 2008)

I screw up.

A lot.

As a wife. As a mother.

As the person responsible for buying the clog remover for the upstairs bathroom sink before it flooded over and destroyed everything within a 12-block radius.

But once in a while something special happens that makes me stop and think, “Wow. Maybe I’m not so terrible after all.”


“You’re going to Time Out!” I heard a voice say.

The voice wasn’t mine or my husband’s, so I was a little curious about its source.

I turned around to see my three-year-old son march down the stairs with his brand new toy, an animatronic puppy that promised to perform a variety of tricks to amaze and astound even the most jaded of toddlers.

It had arrived Christmas morning, fresh off Santa’s sleigh and eager to perform a variety of stunts. He could stand on his head, pounce forward, play tug-of-war and sing.

Chaser, Wonder Mutt of West Edwards Street, was less than impressed. As the little dog performed his bag of tricks, her big brown eyes narrowed.

Can he give a high five? No, I don’t think so. Can he roll over? Nope. Can he hump the sofa pillow until it’s a useless lump of polyester stuffing? Not unless he wants to fight me for it first.

She let out a small grrrr and prepared to perform her own pounce, so I quickly grabbed her collar and said, “You’re still Number 1. And leave the pillows alone. They don’t love you in that kinda way.”

But it was too late. Perhaps the little dog had sensed some bad voodoo from the 94-pound Golden Retriever with an attitude and decided it best to employ that age-old survival trick to ensure he’d live to see another day.

Play dumb.

Suddenly his tricks turned into bricks. Ask him to shake his paw and he stood on his head. Tell him to sit and he’d lie down and go to sleep.

It took my son two seconds to realize that the little doggie was having a canine meltdown.

“Mommy,” he whined, “What’s wrong with him?”

OK, time to start making stuff up. Isn’t that what parenting is all about?

“Oh, he’s probably just tired from his trip,” I said. “The North Pole is a long way from here. He just needs a nap.”

The little guy digested that bit of information and decided that yes, a nap was a good idea and headed upstairs with his new best friend.

However, I was already onto Plan B.

B was for Batteries.

While the North Pole bit worked for now, I needed to perform a Christmas miracle sometime during the next hour. And that miracle must involve a fresh set of batteries.

During the next 57 minutes, I tore the house apart searching the house for four new batteries with enough juice to power up the pup, then sneaked upstairs, slid the toy from under my son’s tiny arm without waking him, discovered the battery compartment would only open with a screwdriver tiny enough to build a ship in a bottle, ended up ripping the entire thing off anyway, replaced the batteries, secured the gaping hole with a generous strip of duct tape, gently slid the toy back under my son’s arm and prayed for the best.

But the puppy had it out for me. New batteries didn’t make a lick of difference. He was just stupid.

Cute. But stupid.

I heard my son shout, “You’re going to Time Out!”I inquired as to why the little dog was being punished and my son snarled, “Because he’s not LISTENING to me!”
He set the toy down on the bottom step and said, “You sit here and think about what you did,” and walked away.

After a few minutes – because apparently he was using his own past punishments as a model here – he walked back over to the dog, sat down next to it, put his arm around the dog’s neck and leaned over to say, “Are you going to listen to me now?”

Apparently the dog answered “yes” because my son smiled, picked him up and carried him off into the sunset.

Maybe I’m not such a terrible parent. After all, he seems to have the punishment thing down. That’s half the battle.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at

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