We’ve loved our scoundrels, but this time we’re aiming for a good citizen
by Eileen Slovak
My only nephew on my husband’s side of the family is a 12-week-old yellow Lab named Bailey. Bailey is all puppy smell, big feet and mischief. The pup’s joys include stealing grandma’s slippers, and grabbing hold of the toilet paper roll and running around the house, leaving a trail behind him. He’s already earned himself a nickname: the monster.
Within a year, Bailey a rescue dog in training will have more muscle power than his owner, Kristina. So off Bailey went to doggy obedience school to learn from the start who’s in charge.
Checking things out before Bailey’s class, they watched soon-to-be graduates practicing their skills. Among these was Mocha, a dachshund.
“Sit,” commanded the wiener dog’s large owner. Mocha considered, then decided against it.
“Sit, Mocha,” the man repeated, a little louder. Still no movement. Maybe Mocha didn’t like his name; maybe he would have preferred Oscar or Mayer or Hot Diggety.
“S-I-T!” the owner spelled the word. Mocha stood like a statue. Mocha three, owner zip.
Eventually, they moved on to the next test, fetching. Mocha’s owner threw a Frisbee, saying “Fetch, Mocha.” He then explained to the instructor how Mocha would go to the Frisbee but not return it.
Sure enough, Mocha trotted over to the Frisbee. He studied it, then carefully lifted his leg and did something far from fetching.
“Mocha’s a little spirited,” the owner explained, coloring a bit. People say that same thing about children sometimes. It translates into he knows who’s in charge, and it isn’t who you think it is.
Kristina hoped Bailey wouldn’t get any ideas. Rescue dogs need to master the basics. Good thing he didn’t know Cassius Clay, the spirited dog we grew up with.
Cassius was part Alaskan malamute, part German shepherd. That dog ate everything in sight, including the interior of my Dad’s car. He was king of the house and the neighborhood.
Dad took Cassius to obedience school. They were asked to leave halfway through the first class when Cassius thought it would be great fun to get all of the other dogs riled up, pick a fight, then get a little too familiar with the instructor.
Eventually, with concerted effort from his family, an unschooled Cassius learned how to behave himself, sort of.
A free spirit up until the day he died, at hearing Cassius, come! he would carefully consider the distance between you and himself. If he was satisfied that you hadn’t a hope of catching him, he’d turn tail and run like the wind in the opposite direction.
A good companion, fiercely protective, patient and fun-loving, Cassius was no rescue dog.
I have much greater expectations for Bailey and Kristina, who dreams of volunteering as a rescue dog and handler team.
After intense training, they hope to assist law enforcement agencies in finding lost humans and rescuing others from disaster. German shepherds and gold retrievers are common breeds of search-and-rescue dogs, but any breed with a good disposition and a love of play can qualify.
Becoming a search-and-rescue dog requires great commitment from both canine and owner. Both must remain agile and physically fit to withstand often strenuous conditions.
Beyond heel, obey and fetch, Bailey will need to complete an agility course including leaping one meter high, walking on a balance beam and jumping hurdles. He will learn to use his refined sense of smell to track items and remain focused and in control at all times.
Bailey is faring well, so far, in his obedience class. He’s left it up to other pooches to play the role of class clown. His willingness to please his owner just might surpass his doggy desires to make mischief.
I watched Kristina and Bailey walk in unison to the head of the obedience class, just as a new student arrived. She was a small, well-coifed Pekinese. Spotting Princess, Bailey stopped dead in his tracks, ears twitching, tail wagging. But on Kristina’s demand, he remained patiently by her side. “Such a good boy!” Kristina said, patting him.
He sure is, thought I, the proud aunt. I’m fairly certain that I was the only one, besides Princess, who saw Bailey wink.
Eileen Slovak reflects from Chesapeake Beach. Her last, for Father’s Day, was
“My Father’s Summer Classroom Was the Water.” (No. 16: June 12).