Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Sam and I - Part II

Back to my "battle" with Sam. If you haven't read yesterday's blog entry (part I), you should read it first before continuing.

As I said, Sam controls the yard beyond the veranda. Any object left within his territory is fair game, and make no mistake: it will be destroyed. Sandals, shoes, toys, plants, brooms, buckets, garden implements ... you name it.

Miraculously, he knows that the veranda itself is off-limits. I've managed to enforce this rule through a mixture of brute force and subterfuge. Brute force, because if I catch him placing one paw on the veranda, he will catch hell. Subterfuge, because to keep him off the veranda at night (when everyone is sleeping), I set up an elaborate trap involving a nylon monofilament trip wire, mouse traps, and a large tin can filled with nails. It worked flawlessly; he only tripped the wire twice before he decided that sneaking onto the veranda isn't worth getting the crap scared out of him. Later, however, he did figure out that it was the nylon tripwire that caused the noise; as a result, he will sometimes, in the middle of the night or when nobody is around, test the defenses. If he senses the tripwire, he will back off. If not... it's party time! I lost my brand new $80 sandals that way. Unfortunately, this means that, to be sure we are protected, I have to set up the trap every single night! It's like the old Lost in Space episodes where the Robinsons have to turn on the "Force Field" at sundown to protect them from marauding alien creatures.

Since the house is at the back of the yard, arriving visitors must pass through a 45 yard "gauntlet of drool" to make it to the "safe zone". If they are lucky, they will only get sniffed and muzzled. Sam sees most strangers as potential playmates, however, and won't hesitate to demonstrate his excitement, which usually means jumping and licking. Out of necessity, I had a steel fence built around Sam's doghouse area, so we would have a place to pen him in when we have guests. Of course, Sam has decided he doesn't like being penned in one bit, and it didn't take him long to figure out he could dig his way underneath the fence. He will actually tip his water dish over to soften the ground and help him slide easier (using the mud to lubricate his passage!). I've used everything from rocks to logs to fill in the holes and make his "cell" escape proof. I've come to the conclusion that the only sure solution will be to pour a concrete pallet within the confines so that there will be nothing left to dig.

If keeping Sam in the pen is difficult, getting him into the pen in the first place is an even tougher challenge. Attempts to lure him in and trap him with tasty treats worked initially, but it didn't take long for him to figure out what was going on. I've tried cajoling him, tricking him, threatening him with a stick and screaming at him, generally while the potential visitor/victim looks on. As a result, I've made a fool of myself in front of visitors countless times trying to forcefully drag or even carry Sam across the yard, as he does everything in his power to foil me.

If you've seen the movie "Beethoven", which is basically about the desperation of a grumpy father (played by the perfectly-cast Charles Grodin) trying to keep his family-life in order while having to put up with the chaos provoked by an enormous slobbering adopted St. Bernard, then you will be able to imagine exactly what I am talking about: That's me: Charles Grodin, over and over again. Sam repeatedly manages to make me look, act and feel like a complete idiot. He's nearly convinced me that I am a complete idiot. If you don't believe me , try and visualize the following real life scenario as if it were a scene from the movie:


It's a Monday night: Capoeira night. Capoeira is kind of a mix of martial art with dance that is practiced in Brazil. Every Monday night we host Capoeira lessons for James and Christian, together with a group of friends from their school (the parents got together and hired a private teacher; we just offer the space at our house). Sam is safely locked away in his pen (so I think), with rocks and wood reinforcements piled aesthetically around its perimeter. A light rain has fallen off and on throughout the day making his pen appear more like a "sty" then a kennel. It's worth mentioning that, thanks mostly to Sam, the grass covering the yard itself is, at best, patchy. That means mud; lots of it.

The kids are still warming up; the lesson has just begun. Suddenly it happens: an enormous four-legged ball of mud and fur explodes seemingly from out of nowhere and barrels into the middle of the group; children, dressed in white Capoeira uniforms, are scattered like bowling pins amidst screams of terror. Sam, having detected and exploited a vulnerability in his detention system, is thrilled: "Fun! Kids to play with!". Like the most efficient predators of the Serengeti, Sam chooses carefully his prey: he hones in on the weakest victim, the most frightened little girl, who as it happens, is also most intent on flight. By the time he sees her, she has covered nearly half of the 40 yard distance to the veranda... "safe haven" is almost within her grasp....

But she's not fast enough. Legs pounding like a cheetah, muscles rippling beneath a coating of mud, Sam sprints effortlessly to within striking distance and silently pounces. Knocked from her feet like a rag-doll, his prey flails wildly as she struggles to defend herself from the raking mud-caked paws and lolling tongue. Pinned to the ground, there is no escape.

But then a blood-curdling shriek pierces the night; the remaining children stare in awe and horror as a phantom-like figure leaps from the veranda and charges like a maddened wildebeest, covering the 20 yards that separates him from Sam in what seems like the blink of an eye. Foam and spittle spews from his mouth as he roars with wild fury; violence is in the air, the Great White Hunter has arrived. (Or is that the Great White Ape?)

By the time Sam perceives his danger, it’s almost too late: I'm nearly upon him. He releases his prey in a futile attempt at escape. He runs; I follow. He dodges; I dive. We roll. Mud flys.

How does that saying go? "Hell hath no fury like a dog-owner scorned". I have him by the throat. Completely lost to a blind rage, I pound him to the ground repeatedly. Instinct has taken over: I have every intention of strangling him to death.

Sam, of course, doesn't resist. His body language virtually screams "submission". He will let me kill him before biting me in his own defense.

Seconds pass; it seems like an eternity. As awareness descends upon me, my grip begins to relax. I become uncomfortably aware of the group of wide-eyed, slack-jawed 9-year olds watching furtively from the shadows. My angry growl through clenched teeth ... Die! Die! Die!... slowly transforms into something that sounds more like plaintive sobs; Why? Why? Why me?

Impressed by my performance, one of James' friends turns to him and comments admiringly, without a hint of sarcasm in his voice: "Wow! Your dad sure knows how to deal with dogs!".


"Uhh... Show's over everyone..." I declare hoarsely, somehow managing a weak, thoroughly unconvincing smile: "Back to your lesson!" . I am trying to defuse the tension and recover some semblance of dignity from my embarassing predicament. Unfortunately, the show isn't over: I still have to get Sam back to his pen, somehow crossing over 30 yards of muddy turf.

Sam's leash is nowhere to be seen; since I can't let him go to look for it, I opt for leading him by his collar. Rather than collaborate, Sam chooses to maintain the classic "submission" posture: lying on his back, on the ground turned to one side. My "leading" turns out to be "dragging" for the first couple of yards. Keenly aware of the onlookers, I try a change of strategy: "Come on, boy!", I pat him lovingly and coo in the most soothing voice I can manage under the circumstances. "Let's go back to your house! Come on! Come on!". Unable to get him to obey, I drag him another couple of yards before losing my temper again.

"Damn you, Sam! Come on!!!". I grab him around the middle and force him to his feet, but he plants his paws firmly and spreads his legs. Out of pure futility, I give his collar a massive heave; but the gesture backfires: with a sickening lurch, his collar pops off, and I tumble forward. Sam, siezing the chance, makes another mad dash for freedom. (Flashback to earlier in the day: Cristina says, "Gosh, Jim... Sam's collar is too tight! Poor thing! I'm going to loosen it up a little ...").

It takes me me nearly three circuits of the entire yard before I manage to capture him once again; he knows he's in big trouble, and probably believes his struggle is life or death. When I finally grab him by the rear legs, he immediately falls into submission. This time I take no chances: ignoring the stares, I hoist him over my shoulder and carry him across the yard, finally dumping him uncerimoniously into his pen. To make sure there is no escape, I clamp his collar back on (tightened three or four notches) and securely attach him to his chain within his pen. I then proceed to fill in his escape hole. Redundancy is the key to a successful security policy.

Ok ... having said all that... I have one final point to add: a bone for the dog-lovers, as it were.
Yes... there are days that I want to strangle Sam. (Most days, in fact...) But, I won't claim that Sam has no positive qualities whatsoever. In fact, if he were the size of a chihuahua, I think I could actually like having him around. In some aspects, Sam is surprising: for example, it's amazing how well he gets along with Kevin, and Kevin with him. Kevin can spend hours playing with Sam out in the yard. Sam seems to know where the limit is: he never jumps on Kevin like he does with Christian and James, and Kevin can literally walk all over him. For Kevin, Sam is a great friend. If James and Christian can learn how to set their limits with Sam also, there's no denying that having a dog around will be great for the kids.
My only hope is that Sam will calm down as he grows older and more mature; I've learned that the concept of "obedience training" for a Labrador is a myth. At most, you can teach him where the limits are. In the meantime, I've got concrete to pour....


At July 07, 2005 1:30 PM, Kim said...

Have no fear Jim, the "calm" days are coming. Had someone told me PRIOR to buying my lab that he would not "grow up" until he was at least 3 human years old, I would have pushed for the dog I wanted in the first place - a great dane. A huge dog, I know, but very good with kids - and their puppy stage only lasts for about 6 months. But, I too love my lab (Mercury!). I read your woes and I am now having flashbacks of Merc's puppyhood. Hang in there! Even Steve loves the dog now...


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