Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sam and I - Part I

I have a confession to make: I am not a "dog person".

This won't come as a shock to anyone who's been around me recently; my relationship with Tição (Celio and Clea's black Lab) was anything but harmonious, especially when he was young and ornery. And now, I have to deal with Sam, who is proving to be a serious challenge to my self-esteem, not to mention my capacity for self-control.

Not that I have anything specifically against dogs in particular, compared with other animals. Quite the opposite; in fact, the ironic thing is that I always thought that I was a "dog person". I grew up around dogs, and have always had good relationships with them. I don't mind dogs. I like dogs. I especially like other people's dogs.

But I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm just not the kind of person who loves dogs. The kind that gets all enthusiastic and emotional and treats them as if they were people, that rolls around on the grass when they jump on you; that can take a slobbery kiss on the lips while baby-talking to them; the kind that can cuddle up to a shedding hound on your bed or feed him scraps from the kitchen table all the while getting that warm-and-fuzzy feeling that your best friend is at your feet.

Some people are like that. I know quite a few people who are like that, actually. But I guess I'm different.

I am the kind that can't stand getting licked, sniffed, slobbered on, nipped, humped, or jumped on with muddy paws. I am the kind that can't stand having to pick dog-hair out of my dinner plate, or walking across my white ceramic floor with wet feet only to find that they have been literally coated with fur. I don't like having to skim a layer of fur off the pool every day; and I can literally lose it when I find my garden hose has been stretched across the yard and chewed into a dozen pieces. It's profoundly irritating to me when I note that Kevin is tracking dog crap all over the living room floor and up the stairs.

Maybe that means I'm uptight; but I am trying to convince myself that it means I'm basically normal.

Our yellow Lab Sam turned a year old last week. In fact, by popular demand (James and Christian), we were obliged to hold a "birthday party" for him last Saturday. That was OK with me... any excuse to have family over for a barbecue is a good excuse as far as I'm concerned.

We bought Sam when he was still just a puppy, just after he had turned a month old (I find it incredible that you have to buy a dog! People should pay you to take them!). We had been putting this step in our life off for as long as possible: we had always told the kids that we couldn't get a dog because we lived in an apartment; so when we moved to the new house with a expansive yard, our excuse was gone. We still managed to string the kids along for nearly two years, but in the end, we were forced to yield.

I had long vowed that I would never have a Labrador retriever because of less than positive past experiences (ahem!). They are big, overly playful, excitable, clumsy, and useless as a guard dog. However, they do have one positive trait that, after much contemplation, made me give in: I have never heard of a Labrador biting someone. They seem almost physically incapable of it (except maybe some "accidental" nips). This is an important attribute for someone with a bunch of kids around, and Kevin was still very tiny. Labs are also very cute when they are little puppies. Oh! If they could only stay that way!

Things started out OK between Sam and me. Labs are clearly very intelligent, so I figured: I'll just train him! I began trying early on (I vowed that he would be different from Tição!). I very quickly trained him to "Sit!", but success with more sophisticated dogly commands were elusive: like teaching him to crap in a specific place, or to go to his doghouse when I tell him.

The secret to controlling a dog, I had learned through intensive research into the subject, is to not allow the dog to think he is the leader of the pack. This is because, in the wild, dogs and their ilk (wolves for example) have a strong sense of hierarchy: every animal knows its place in the pack. If you let a dog walk over you, he will assume that he's the leader, and you will never get him to obey you.

That's a great fact of biology, and has a lot of scientific validity for wolves in the wild. However, this in itself is not sufficient. It fails to take into account some other important facts. The first is that, even when you have convinced the dog that you are the leader of the pack, he will still want to assert himself with the other family members; more specifically, the children. Kids have a tendency to want to play with the dog, and aren't generally disciplined enough to establish their place in the pecking order. The result is that the kids have no authority over the dog whatsoever. That may not be a problem with a Chihuahua, but a Lab is a big dog, and just playing around can unwittingly knock even an adult on his back.

The second major problem is that a dog raised with people thinks that it is a person! Therein lies my great bane, and my daily torture: this problem is of course exacerbated when the rest of the family insists on treating the damn dog like a person! Sam truly can't understand why he has different rules to live by: why he has to sleep outside, when everyone else can sleep inside. Why many times he has to be locked up when visitors are over (maybe it's because not everyone likes being knocked on their ass, licked, slobbered on, sniffed, and muddied!!!).

Rationally, I know that Sam is still just a kid. I also know that he just wants to be loved, and to be around us. I know I should be more patient with him; probably I would make more progress towards his obedience by being more patient. But Sam tempts my dark side; whenever he is near me, fury smolders just beneath the surface like magma from an ancient volcano ready to erupt. And don't think he doesn't know he is provoking me.

Over the months, a battle has raged between Sam and me, although we have settled into an uneasy truce. At the moment, Sam basically controls the yard beyond our veranda, and I control the veranda and the house. He respects me (and perhaps fears me) within my territory, but when I'm not around he is master of the domain.

I seem to be rather verbose today, so I’m going to split this blog entry. Tomorrow I will continue this tirade. Until then, I’ve posted some pictures from Sam’s “birthday party” here. (Don't expect lots of pictures of Sam ... I fear his "behaviour" sometimes precluded his active participation in the festivities!


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