The unleashed power of a lapdogPublished 4:32pm Saturday, August 27, 2011
By Alexandra Kloster, Pass the Hot Dish
That is my mantra. I chant it all day hoping to realize tranquility in our home. So far all I’ve realized is a migraine and defeat.
For nearly a decade my husband, Graham, and I have learned to live with sporadic, hysterical barking until a few months ago when we started a home renovation project I like to call, “This House Possessed.” When workmen began appearing every morning wielding power tools, the barking turned chronic.
We approached our screaming dogs with slightly different attitudes. Graham, my mild mannered chemical engineer, explained to them in his calm even way, “Boys, I’m no longer interested in what you have to say.” Shockingly, this didn’t work. I stood over them shaking my finger and bellowing my mantra. That made them worse.
The barking became a constant din like those jungle drums in old zombie movies that caused people to hold their heads and scream, “Those drums! They’re driving me mad!” I had to do something, so I held my head and screamed, “That barking! It’s driving me mad!” and then I Googled “How to shut up your dog.”
Don’t yell at them to be quiet was the first advice I read, so much for my mantra, followed by techniques to quell inappropriate barking. I wasn’t sure how humane these were so Graham and I tried them on each other before inflicting them on our boys.
The first method involved spraying the dog in the face with water every time he yowled. “Go ahead. Give it your best shot,” I told Graham. The water went in my mouth and up my nose. “Nothing doing!” I choked. “I’m not water boarding a Yorkie!”
The next suggestion was a collar designed to give off electric pulses when it detected barking, so we skated around on the carpet in our socks until we worked up enough static electricity to shock each other. It hurt! No way was I using that weapon of torture on a Pomeranian.
The last option, a corrective tap on the nose, seemed like the winner. We spent the next twenty minutes flicking each other about the face until we determined how much contact would annoy but not harm.
After a week, the barking subsided, but I sensed a tension in the dogs. They were plotting. Then one day Graham walked to the edge of the stairs and Sid barked. Graham went in for the tap. Sid dodged him and stopped barking. They repeated the routine exactly as before. I watched this back and forth for about five minutes until the laws of conditioning kicked in beautifully. Sidney had successfully trained Graham to play the when-I-bark-you-come-running-and-chase-me-game. What fun!
“He’s figured us out,” I said. “Once a lapdog tastes power there’s no satisfying his appetite. We’re doomed.”
We had arrived at the last resort, the method so cruel I hate to admit we did it. We ignored them. We ignored their barking and all bids for attention. Sidney did his roll over trick so many times he made himself sick and Gizmo tried every one of his “I’m a sad little bald Pomeranian” looks, but we stood firm. It worked. We’d broken them, but Graham and I were miserable. It felt like we lost our best friends.
Then the punitive wetting started. It was Sidney. A typical terrier, he figured out exactly what would cause the most trouble and then thought of something worse.
I knew he’d beaten me the day I found myself staring up at a brick wall of a man named Wade. He was one of the construction crew; a natural enemy as far as Sid was concerned. “I think your little dog took aim on my miter saw,” he said. I looked at Sidney’s sweet, loving face. The poor baby only wanted my attention, so I took a deep breath and said what was in my heart, “That’s not my dog. I’ve never seen that dog before in my life.”
My 6-pound nemesis was going to get it now! Then Wade knelt down. No, Wade! He scratched Sid under the chin. Wade, don’t do it! “You’re a cute one, aren’t you?” he cooed. Wade, you fool!
Victorious, Sidney started barking wildly. Gizmo chimed in. I tried mantra, “Quiet! Be quiet. Please?” but all was lost. They had won, so I chased my tail for a second, flipped over on my back and surrendered.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.