September 18, 2014
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This Side Up

“Stay,” I said softly, yet with conviction.

Ollie focused on the treat I was holding. I held the small piece of crust away from him and placed it on the floor.

“Stay,” I repeated.

He fidgeted, the muscles in his legs tightened. He was ready to bolt for the bread. He stayed, but he gazed at the treat as if he could will it to come to him.

“No, stay,” I said.

Sticky drool, like a strand of spaghetti, extended from the side of his mouth. I didn’t try to intercept it before it reached the floor. This was too important a lesson for such distractions. Maybe this time, Ollie could wait for the command.

Then, for the first time since we adopted him in February, Ollie took his eyes off the food. He shifted his attention to me. His brown eyes implored for the OK.

That’s what I was looking for. It was a breakthrough. I gave it about 15 seconds and then, in an upbeat voice, said, “OK Ollie, go get it.”

He sprang to life. The morsel disappeared instantly.

I congratulated him, calling him a good dog and petting him. He watched intently as I bit into a second piece of toast. I paused to look at him. He looked sheepish, sat down. He was wondering what would be requested now. Not taking his look away from me, he sat down. When that failed to gain praise and a reward, he rolled on his back. I didn’t say anything.

When I got down to another nub of crust, I held it up. I had his attention. I went through the routine for a second time, only placing the treat practically under his nose. This time he watched me, not once looking at the crumb.

After months of trying to get him to pay attention to us, Ollie had made a conversion. Now we were in command. I was elated.

“You’re not going to believe what he is doing,” I announced excitedly to Carol who was in the kitchen. She witnessed many attempts to get Ollie to follow orders only to see him snatch up the food before I had the chance to say “Stay.”

“Watch,” I declared, as I placed another piece before him and went through the routine.

I think she was impressed, although I’m not sure.

I left for work believing we had crossed a significant threshold. Ollie could listen. He could be trained. No longer would he be oblivious to our calls. At least, that’s what I thought Friday.

The awakening came soon enough.

Ollie is smart. It only took him a couple of times to learn that the invisible fence gives a shock. He stays clear, even though squirrels and other dogs could be within a stone’s throw. He otherwise has the run of the yard. It’s been a newfound freedom for both him and us. With nose to the ground – after all, he’s a hound – and raised tail gyrating, he patrols the grounds. Occasionally, he’ll stop at trees, looking up and then make a futile attempt at climbing after what must be the scent of a racoon, a cat or a squirrel. His yard scouting can last for hours, after which he comes inside and collapses for an extended snooze. At least, that’s what he did until yesterday morning.

With the confidence that I finally got through to him, I whistled and called from the back door. I was greeted by silence. I gave it a second and third try. On the fourth, Ollie loped past me without slowing on his way to the backyard. He was on a mission.

Next, I clapped my hands and held high his favorite toy. He didn’t even turn to look. I went back in, figuring he’d tire soon enough. What a mistake.

Twenty minutes later Carol announced she had heard a yelp. She thought it was Ollie.

Our fears were confirmed when we didn’t find him in the yard.

Moments later, we were on patrol. The search went on for at least an hour before we got a call from one of the people we talked with saying he had been spotted.

Sure enough, he was there and on the hunt. I drove alongside him and opened the door, but he ignored the invitation. He shot ahead, not slowing for West Shore Road, where he ran in the breakdown lane before crossing in front of the car near Mawney Street. He didn’t slow.

I figured I had him when he cut into a fenced yard. With leash in hand, I got out and walked into the yard. When I got to the back of the house, he was gone. There was a hole in the fence.

Carol joined me hunting around block after block. Nothing.

She continued after I went to the office. She called an hour later. She found him in another fenced yard and said he almost looked relieved to see her.

So much for “Stay.”

Looks like we’re going to have to work on “Come.” 


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