My Special Dog Trained Me Well

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You can train your dog like dog trainers and behavior experts suggest. And succeed. Or let your dog train you. And have the dog succeed.

Whatever Otis wants, Otis gets. That’s my 17-lb brown-brindle pug-mix. But don’t get my dog wrong – Otis is the sweetest, cuddliest dog around the house. And obedient, too. But he picks the commands that he would obey, decides when and what to eat, even what games to play where and how. For almost three years now since my husband and I adopted him, we’ve learned to play – and live our lives — by his dog rules. From an outdoor/backyard dog that we had envisioned for him, he won his way to the garage, then gradually to the family room, then to the study. And straight to our hearts. Today on many evenings, like parents adoring our baby, we watch and listen to him snore on our bed. Yes, Otis got me and my husband trained very well.

How did Otis succeed? In the most subtle ways, and these can be any trainer’s methods. Otis is never pushy when he wants anything. But he makes his message clear and doesn’t budge: he sits up and stares at me as in a contest of who blinks first, sometimes with a little tilt of his head, until my heart melts. So whatever I’m eating, he gets a taste of it. Whenever I am on the couch and I get the look, I pick him up to snuggle beside me. Or if he chooses, he snuggles instead with my husband on the couch as he plays Sudoku or watches TV. If I am upstairs on my computer and he decides to be with me he quietly comes up, touches my leg with his wet nose to let me know he’s there and proceeds to nap on his dog bed under my desk.

Otis uses his chewing-bone toy to train us in doing a lot of things for him. First he invented a new way with the bone game. He would pick it up, present it to me with a lot of tail-wagging and run away with it. I figured I had to run after him until I catch him. And then we do a little tug-of-bone. He won’t give it up until I give him a body massage. Then I will throw it away again and follow the same ritual. Take note: Otis uses the bone to control me instead of me controlling him. Feeling him enjoy his massage makes me wonder when I could have a good one myself.

We decided to take him to the nearby spacious community park green lawn to play the game differently. Maybe teach him to catch the bone. We failed. He would not even pick it up. We tried a doggie ball. He didn’t like it either. He just stood and watched. He preferred to run around with us. And he ran fast like a windhound on the grass. Quite a puppy-energy for an eight-year old dog. When we went back to our cemented backyard to play bone again, and he chased the bone with the same verve and energy, we feared something was wrong with him. The vet confirmed it – he was going blind with cataracts. At age eight, surgery was not the best option.

So we all learned to live with it. Otis dictates the rules and picks his signals according to his capability. He uses his strongest suit, his sense of hearing – following the sound of the bone on the cement — to compensate for his sight handicap. And he effectively communicates it to us. From the time that we learned about his failing eyesight we cut him a lot of slack and granted his preferences. The bone-game before his meals which got me bored changed into I-take-my-coffee-and-toast-in-the-backyard while Otis ate his food. When I couldn’t have the time to do that with him, he decided he won’t eat until we ate. Today he joins us at every meal – his own dish, complete with some embellishments from our food, on the floor beside my chair. And you can hear his food kernels crackle and roll against his plastic dish as he chows down. That tells us Otis is enjoying his meal with us.

Coming earlier than the change in meal arrangements was the change in sleeping arrangements. We decided to transfer his dog bed from the backyard to the garage which had a dog door Otis can use to get in and out. He easily found it and used it to his full advantage especially when he barked at the neighbor-dog or needed to perform his duties. Every night it became my ritual to pet him and whisper to him good night. He would curl up and hide his face under the flannel sheet which I use to tuck him in. Sometimes he would rest his head on my palm as if telling me to stay with him. So I would whisper that I love him and that I’ll see him in the morning. As I turn off the light I would look at him and see his sad, begging eyes looking back at me. He always stayed and never attempted to follow me. And I always went to bed feeling guilty with that look, wondering how much really he sees of me.

The guilty feelings did not last long. Otis convinced me and my husband that he deserved to be an indoor dog – well-behaved, no messes, calm and cuddly. And not just indoor, but on-our-bed dog on special occasions. Like the many times when he just really, really wants to snuggle with us. Or the many times when we just love to watch him as he lies on our bed like a pig, snoring away. He’s a dog all right, and he is our baby. And all is well with us and Otis, everything just the way he wants it.

write by Esperanza

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