Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Old dog, new tricks: Bring!
I've chewed up more than my share of cyberspace extolling the virtues of our dog Ben. But, there are a few chinks in his furry armor -- and retrieving (or more specifically nonretrieving) is one of the more distinctive ones.
Don't get me wrong. It's not a matter of apathy on Ben's part. He LOVES chasing balls and would do so for hours if he could.
But, somehow, ever since he was a puppy, there's been a major disconnect between us throwing balls and Ben returning them.
So now that the weather's taken a slight turn for the better (91 degrees today! Huzzah!) and we're lounging around outside a bit more, the Wonderfully Patient Spouse and I are revisiting the concept of BRING! with Ben and his tennis balls.
Ben, I'm afraid, is less than inspired with this exercise.
Here's what goes down: After chasing down and pouncing on his prize, Ben happily prances up to you, the thrower, ball in mouth and eyes shining expectantly, as if to say "Gee willikers that was fun. Let's do it again!" But as you lean down to relieve him of said ball, Ben lopes off tossing his head and rolling his eyes.
A merry chase ensues (which, yes, we've figured out, this IS the whole point of this little exercise) -- Ben bobbing and weaving around the yard in typical herding dog fashion. One of us in hot pursuit, yelling lovingly ineffective commands like "Ben, give!" We look like nuts.
And so it was, last summer, that we began honing Ben's sadly (I suppose this is all a matter of perspective. . . overall, Ben seems pretty pleased with himself) lacking retrieving skills. The quest continues this summer.
I am using a highly refined system of stern "BRING, BEN, BRINGSs" reinforced with a very impressive Commanding Stare and much emphatic finger-pointing to the place where I want the ball delivered.
Yes, I know. Nothing short of genius. Just call me the Dog Whisperer.
(Of course, this is a dog who has figured out how to close himself in the bathroom during windstorms. It is possible he has a slight edge.)
Let me give you a sense of one of our training sessions:
ME (Ben almost hysterical in anticipation): Throws the ball.
BEN: Goes from 0 to 60 in a split nanosecond and nabs the ball.
ME: BRING, BEN. BRING!
accompanied with a very impressive (if I do say so myself) Combination Commanding Stare and Finger-point Move.
BEN: Thinks about it for a moment, then flops down on the lawn, his back to me (so much for the Commanding Stare) and begins to gum his ball.
BRING. BEN, BRING!
BEN: Stops gumming his ball for a moment and gives me a courtesy glance over his shoulder.
"Oh, did you just say something?"
ME (repeat Commanding Voice-Commanding Stare. Intensify finger-pointing):
BRING. BEN, BRING!
Now THAT got his attention. Or maybe not.
Sighing imperceptibly, Ben does clamber to his feet, stuffs the tennis ball into his mouth and strolls sideways -- slowly -- in my direction.
ME: (Yeah, baby, this is PROGRESS!)
BEN (Stops about 18 inches away from me, fixes me with a deliciously rebellious glare and, ball in mouth, goes):
Yes, the dog lisped. It's hard to go "Woof" with a tennis ball in your mouth.
BEN: Thinks long and hard about his options and then. . . then. . . (a) literally flings the ball at me with another WUHTH! obviously disgusted at the retrieval rehabilitation process or (b) dashes off, ball in mouth, inviting me to give chase.
Let me just say -- (b) happens more frequently that (a).
And that's OK. I can use the exercise.