This Side Up

Following the command...well, when he wants to


I felt his presence.

He had slipped into the dining room and, without looking to confirm my suspicion, I imagined his dark eyes carefully watching my every more. I continued with my dinner, cutting into one of the two chicken tenders on my plate.

“You should see him,” said Carol, “his eyes are following every move you make. He could be watching a tennis match.”

Of course, Ollie was watching every fork full of my dinner, intently hopeful that something would come his way. Ollie has learned not to be vocal. He’s not a demanding beggar, rather an omnipresent one with focused attention for the moment where he is recognized and handed a morsel, or better yet, given the plate.

Usually, I acknowledge his presence. Such recognition – a glance in his direction – brings a hopeful twitch of his tail. In anticipation of the command to “sit” – I don’t have to say it – not only will he sit but slowly push backward until he is lying with forelegs extended. His eyes convey the message. They’re imploring, ever expectant.

He’s got me then. I’ll give him something, no matter what, even a sprig of broccoli. It’s not his favorite but it’s better than nothing.

This time, however, I wasn’t going to be lured into his scheme. I was going to act as if he wasn’t there.

It hasn’t always been this way.

He’s an independent being and still is. When he became a member of the family he gave us little heed. In that respect he was more feline than canine. Calling him was futile, which made us wonder if he was dumb or above responding to us humans – even if there was good reason, such as coming out of the rain or being fed. We couldn’t interrupt his sniffing. He just kept going until he was ready.

He’s changed, although I can’t claim he’s the most attentive, obedient pooch. When called while patrolling the yard with his electric collar and bell – yes, we still use that so we have an idea of where he is – he’ll stop and look up. Actually coming when called is a different matter unless you’re standing at the car with the door open. He loves the car. It means a trip to someplace and a new set of sniffing opportunities.

But I figure acknowledgement is a first big step. Next was getting him to respond to the command. Food is a great incentive, with chicken and turkey being the best. Inside and without sniffing distractions, he’ll come, sit, even lie down in expectation of a tidbit when called.

Having seen how police reward their canine partners with play, I’ve used the same tactic with his favorite toy – a chewed and smelly section of knotted rope. It’s the “pullie,” and he knows that word. He loves playing tug of war. He’ll fetch one of a half dozen we’ve given him when commanded, pushing it toward you until you give in.

Could the pullie, not actually tugging on it, become the reward?

The new game is “find it.” It’s taken some training, but he’ll now sit attentively after playing tug of war while I hide the pullie in another room. I’ll drag the pullie across the carpet, a trail he’ll pick up immediately, then carry it to a chair, bury it under a pillow or slip it under the couch. When called he bounds to the command, anxious to start the hunt. There could be other pullies in the room, but he’s only focused on the one.

It’s the nose he depends on, often sniffing furiously when the pullie is in plain sight. I’ve tried pointing. It’s a visual command he has yet to learn.

So what if I was to totally ignore him when food was on his mind?

Carol kept me informed. He was following my fork. When we were finished we didn’t get up and head for the kitchen where he would expect to get the plates. We talked. He didn’t move.

Finally, I gave in. I turned my head in his direction and as if I pushed a button I heard his tail thumping. He was totally focused.

“Get the pullie,” I commanded.

But Ollie is a smart dog when there’s chicken for dinner.

He wasn’t going anywhere until he checked out our plates.

So much for my training.


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