Monday, December 31, 2012

Like a Normal Dog

We finally took My Bad Dog to the dog park near our house. We've taken her to the other dog park, where she always gets along famously with her brethren. That dog park is like Dog Disneyland; there are so many dogs of every breed, size, and shape. There are mutts. There is a group of owners of Rhodesian ridgebacks that travel in a pack. There is a statuesque older lady whom I've only ever seen swathed in voluminous cloaks (yes, plural) who, walking slowly with the aid of a cane, presides over a pack of rescued dogs that includes a bulldog and a Chihuahua. Once she scolded me roundly for giving the bulldog a biscuit (I misunderstood her answer when I asked permission) because he was on a raw-food diet. If you're lucky, you might see Murphy, a black mastiff universally acknowledged as the alpha of all alphas, break up a fight.

But we (our collective household, minus My Bad Dog) had a bad memory of this dog park from when we had first brought My Bad Dog home from the rescue organization whence she came. We thought we'd take her to the park to tire her out. No sooner had we closed the chain-link gate behind us than a boisterous young poodle (a giant of a standard, not a toy) loped over and exuberantly mounted Sophie, who immediately registered her disapproval. About a thousand little flopsy and mopsy dogs scampered over to see what was happening, yipping all the while. In the mayhem, I shouted at the poodle's owner to get her dog (undeterred by Sophie's protest, the poodle was still leaping and pawing at her). The owner chided me ("He's just a puppy!") before dragging the poodle away.

In retrospect, I see my mistakes (plural). Still, we'd never gone back.

This morning was beautiful, with golden light streaming across the green grass. Behind the fence, the ground was covered with orange leaves. There were only two owners and two dogs: a funny-looking grayish terrier mix belonging to a pleasant guy about my age and a gorgeous fawn and white pitbull belonging to an older woman whose manner might be described as completely neutral. The terrier was friendly, the pitbull shy. We threw a tennis ball for the dogs, and except for a brief raise of the hackles at the pitbull ("It's all right," the pleasant guy said, "they're fine"), all was harmony. On the way home, we encountered an elderly basset hound named Cecil. Cecil growled at My Bad Dog, who reacted, as she always does when small dogs growl at her, with a calm wag, which reassured Cecil, whose owner complimented us on our good, sweet dog.

Which she was, until we saw a mail carrier drive by, and she became the hound of hell, the dog people are so afraid of. In fact, so many people seem so afraid of her, even those who have never seen the hound of hell display, that whenever anybody--the pleasant guy at the dog park, Cecil's smiling owner--treats My Bad Dog like a normal dog, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude.

What's going on with the mind-regulating training? It's dogged as does it, I keep telling myself. As anyone who's ever raised a child or trained a dog knows, the effort is probably 90% training myself in order to act in such a way that encourages the desired behavior and discourages what is unwanted.

I got myself to understand that it's not possible (nor do I want to) train her out of barking completely. She is a dog; it's in her nature to bark, joyfully, playfully, in welcome or in warning. What I want to do is eliminate the crazy so that her barking might be constructive, rather than compulsive.

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