I’m standing in a Petsmart, watching Charleston, my six-month-old Toy Fox Terrier, jump straight up in the air. His back remains flat and all four paws come off the ground. He is barking and barking and barking. Eric and Indiana are up ahead, walking into the puppy class with all the others, but I’m hanging back, waiting for Chuck to calm down. While I wait patiently, refusing to give him attention for his behavior, I’m wishing I had had a baby instead.
It’s not that I want a baby. It’s just that with a human child, you can talk to it. Reason with it. You can do that thing all mothers have done at least once when they have a child going bananas in public — crouch down, yank him close, and hiss through gritted teeth into his ear, “If you don’t stop it RIGHT NOW, I will take you right back through that door and home and tell everyone that my little boy had to leave because he couldn’t behave himself like everyone else.” You know that type of threat moms do.
He just gets himself so worked up. As he tries to sprint forward, I’m reminded of the time when he was so excited about his walk, he got himself all tangled up in the leashes but kept sprinting for the door and nearly hung himself.
My patience starts to run out as he continues barking obnoxiously at each dog that comes within 20 feet of us. Owners are giving us a side-eye; he’s being That Dog. When I realize that him being That Dog makes me That Owner, some kind of maternal instinct — the one that makes you not want to be the mother of the one everyone knows is the bad kid — kicks in. I pull him closer and flip him onto his back so we’re making eye contact. I give him a stern look and silently transmit a message of “STOP IT.” Then I hiss, “Chuck. If you do not stop barking at those other dogs like you are the CEO of Petsmart, we are going to walk right back through those doors and we are going to wait in the car while Indiana and Eric go to class…”
In the middle of my threat, I notice an older woman standing nearby. She’s not watching me, but she could be. Suddenly I feel really stupid so I flip Chuck back over and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally he chills out enough and we go join the others.
I’m used to my little pup’s sounds. They range from cries and whines to loud, shrill barks that make it sound like he’s being stomped on. All are pleas for attention.
Indiana, on the other hand, is the strong, silent type. He is burly and muscular, a pound heavier and an inch taller than Chuck, and he’s actually a bit standoffish. He doesn’t want attention or to sit in your lap. He seems pretty content to just run and roughhouse for hours on end. He and Chuck spend a lot of time chasing each other, climbing on top of each other. As he sprints, jumps, pounces, and tumbles around with Chuck, he keeps his mouth open, showing off his huge pointy teeth. Between the teeth and the gigantic ears, he bares a striking resemblance to Bat Boy.
But at least he’s quiet. He rarely barks; he’s let out a long howl I think maybe twice.
Chuck though…Chuck has a response for everything.
“I’m a little teapot…” While he likes his crate for the most part, he doesn’t like being in there when we’re nearby, so he starts with this sound, which sounds very much like a tea kettle. It’s soft but consistent — like, 60 minutes straight consistent — and even though we totally ignore him (and ignore all his sounds actually), once he starts, we know it will be a while before he stops. To up the melodrama on the whole thing, he’ll just fall silent and start to shake. So there’s this little seven-and-a-half-pound batlike creature staring at you intensely and silently, his eyes fixed on you and glistening so you just feel him, even if the lights are down, and now it’s shaking. I sometimes wonder if he’s trying to cast spells on us.
“I’m in trouble! SOS!!!” First, he starts with a sound effect. When he is on the patio and wants in, he starts by bounding up to the sliding glass door and slamming his paws on it to make a loud noise. When he hears us approaching the front door after we’ve been out, he starts jumping straight up in his crate, crashing his back loudly onto the top of it. Once the sound effect is complete, he starts the cries to be rescued. It’s desperate and urgent; I imagine that he’s saying, “WE’RE IN HERE! WE’RE IN HERE!!! I’M STUCK I’M STUCK I’M STUCK!!!! SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, PLEASE! I THINK THEY FORGOT ABOUT US!!!” We pass by his crate and ignore him so he starts doing the sound effect while continuing to bark. “GUYS? GUYS??? I DON’T THINK THEY CAN SEE ME!!! GUYS??? GUYS!!!! YOU FORGOT ABOUT ME!!!! I’M RIGHT HERE!!!!” Then he looks to Indiana, who isn’t making a sound, but sitting patiently. “COME ON, I NEED YOUR HELP GETTING THEIR ATTENTION! WE’RE GOING TO BE RESCUED, INDIANA!!!!” And Indiana is just giving him this look of, “Seriously, dude?” while he’s being let out of his crate for being silent.
“I’m being tortured!” When he really wants out of his crate, he escalates the tea kettle to a shrill, terrified, painful cry that makes you wonder if he’s being violently attacked. It’s so hard not to let him convince you that he’s being bound, beaten, taken somewhere against his will; I’m listening to him and imagining the old PBS show “Wishbone” doing an episode based on “Saw.”
Perhaps Indiana remains silent while Chuck barks because when it comes to their crates, Indiana has the luxury suite at the Hilton while Chuck is in the Motel Six. He’s destroyed every bed we’ve put in there within minutes. While Indiana is stretched out on a cushy, memory foam bed, Chuck gets an old towel…on good days. On bad days, he shrieks until he gets tired of that and then stops and silently stands up. Just when I think, “Ah…quiet!” he lifts his leg and shoots his pee through the metal rungs so it lands outside of the crate. He looks very proud of himself after doing so, and then disappointed that we don’t immediately give him attention for it. While most dogs don’t have accidents for attention, Chuck’s bladder is big enough to hold it all night. I’m finding it hard to believe that after he’s just been out, he’s doing the “I’m being stomped on!” cry because he has to go again. But just to be on the safe side, we spent $100 at the vet to be sure he didn’t have a bladder infection.
Yeah…he was diagnosed with Severe Attentionitis.
The trainer says it’s probably just a phase.
The puppy class where Chuck is having his scene is not actually the puppy class we usually attend. Eric and I enrolled them in separate classes so they would get some time apart each week and learn to socialize without the other one there. (We also take them on separate walks and outings.) I take Chuck on Tuesday nights and Eric takes Indiana on Wednesday nights. Unfortunately, Chuck’s class has no other dogs in it, so he’s not socializing.
I do like being with the trainer alone. We’ve had two trainers now (one got a new job after a couple classes) and both have given me some good perspective on my little dog. They find him highly amusing, from the way he prances around instead of running like most dogs to the way his stiff little tail wags in slow motion, like the second hand on a clock. But while observing him, they’ve also both had those moments when they say what everyone else is thinking (“With a high-strung puppy like this…” and “Wow, he’s just…so …ADD!”). They always apologize (“Not high-strung, but you know…”) but it doesn’t really bother me because it’s all true ( “Oh, no…he’s high-strung,” I say).
The thing is, we all know that Chuck isn’t a bad dog by any stretch. He’s energetic, healthy, adorable, and loving. He also just happens to be ridiculous. And while his attempts to get attention are annoying and frustrating, his obsessive personality and serious need for attention and makes him somewhat easy to train. He’ll do anything for a treat, while Indiana isn’t quite as interested. He walks on a leash much better than Indiana does because he’s so motivated to focus on his person and he wants to stay with you at all times. And while the ADD the trainers noticed means during walks, he wants to pick up everything in his path — do you know how many leaves, sticks, bugs, toads, and random pieces of litter you pass in one short walk?! I didn’t! — it also means you can pretty easily distract him and get his attention back on you.
The week we taught him how to “leave it” was wonderful; I loved watching him learn this one because I know how impulsive and excited he is. He kept trying to pounce on the treat and would then get correcte; he’d prance away for a second before running right back. But he picked it up very quickly and I was amazed that my little dog could sit there just staring at a treat, waiting for permission to go grab it. He was shaking, but he was waiting for permission. It was so gratifying to watch and to practice at home with him.
While Indiana can (and does) thunder through the apartment, it’s easier to convince Chuck to just come hang out. Typically, all hell breaks loose because Indiana wants him to play and antagonizes him until he does, and they start the whole roughhousing act right in your lap which is really obnoxious, but when Chuck is alone, he’s pretty chill. He’d often rather chew on a bone in his crate than roughhouse with Indy, and sometimes I get the feeling that if he were a kid, I’d be writing him notes to get him out of gym class. It’s not that he’s not athletic, but sometimes I think he’d prefer figure skating than football.
While I enjoy the one-on-one time with the trainer, I know that we’re missing out on practicing new skills in the presence of other dogs, so the trainer told me to come to the puppy class the next night. That’s how we ended up in the class with Eric and Indiana and two other puppies who were approximately six times Chuck’s size. It is the same trainer but he doesn’t mention that Chuck is in his other class or that Chuck is actually a week ahead. This class is going to learn “leave it” tonight, which Chuck already knows how to do.
But can he do it in the presence of other dogs? I am not sure. He has spent most of the class so far barking at Cooper, the puppy across the room from him, and Cooper has just been barking and barking back. Eventually, the other puppy gets worked up too and the three just bark and bark and bark. (Eric told me later that this was all Chuck’s fault — the dogs don’t bark much otherwise.) Not surprisingly, Indiana is observant and even excited at times, but totally and completely silent.
“I want to trade,” I tell Eric.
When the trainer is ready to demonstrate how to teach “leave it,” he chooses Chuck as his volunteer. Given his behavior during the class up to this point, no one expects that this puppy could easily respond to a command that requires him to chill out. I hope he can not embarrass me.
Everyone holds their breath as Chuck sits down and stares at the treat (presumably casting a spell on it like he does to Eric and me) and doesn’t make a peep. The seconds pass and Chuck doesn’t budge; eventually the trainer tells him “take it!” and he pounces on the treat, his reward, as everyone exhales. Cooper’s owner says, “Wow,” and gives me this look that says, “I’m totally impressed and feel bad for thinking your dog is a troublemaker.”
My dog might run his mouth a lot. but at least he has proven that he is smart! Which, come to think of it, is probably the exact philosophy that has kept my mom from losing her mind with me all these years.