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February 2, 2013

The dog is a getting to be an expert at training

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The Daily Star

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No, I haven’t done myself a great injury. No, I’m not suffering from writer’s block. The explanation is simple: I have an 11-month-old dog.

In the same way that the kids can sense when I’m about to use the restroom, which is the perfect time for them to come running into the room no matter how long they’d been happily amusing themselves elsewhere, the dog knows when I am on a deadline. And when I sit down to really work, she comes running, even if she has been happily napping elsewhere.

Usually, there’s a toy in her mouth. My job is to play tug-of-war, then throw the toy as far as I can. It’s not terribly far — not because I can’t throw, but because there isn’t a long straight hallway in the house. But a few feet seems to be enough.

Then she brings it back.

Then she brings it back again.

And again.

And again.

Until I realize that 20 minutes have passed and I’ve done nothing more than toss a ratty length of rope down our hallway a billion times.

That is not how one gets work done. Unless one’s work is playing with a dog — but I hope one has other sources of income if that’s the case.

And if I shouldn’t play along? She breaks out her bark, the one that thousands of generations of breeding has selected for. It’s shrill and sharp — and clearly says, “Go there, cow. NOW.”

I know who is being trained here. Here’s a subtle hint: it’s not the dog.

Apart from this particular bump in the dog road, however, our Lucy is settling right in.

Rest assured that in the future my column won’t be all-dog all-the-time. I just tend to write about whatever is making the most noise around here in any given month. For once, it’s not the kids.

Lucy, bless her, has so much easier to train than the kids — not that you can train kids, really, what with them having human brains and opposable thumbs. But in a just a few short months, all of her bodily functions that need to happen outside do. It took the kids years to figure out how to not pee in inappropriate places. The Boy still can’t quite be trusted to not drop trou in the backyard if the mood strikes him.

(Note to our neighbors: he only does this when the weather is clement. We should be in the clear until June. Also: I apologize in advance.)

We have a routine, too. Three walks a day. Food morning and afternoon. Playing whenever. And at 9 p.m., she waits for me to say the word “crate,” then runs to hers like I’ve just given her a big old hambone and a belly rub.

It’s pretty dang cute, in the same way that a toddler’s delight in a helium balloon is. Such simple pleasures can make for so much happiness.

When my kids were small, I knew my immediate neighborhood as well as my own name, which I could recall faster on the days I’d gotten more than two hours of sleep. We walked a lot when they were younger. Or, rather, I walked and they were pushed in a stroller while we wandered around. 

When their legs were long enough, they walked, too, and a quick trip down to Center Street Deli and back would take hours because we’d have to stop to investigate each bug, twig and cigarette butt.

Now I can tell you where every last hydrant, stop sign and trash can in a two-block radius is. I can also tell you which of my neighbors have dogs and/or kids as well as which of those dogs/kids are friendly.

I’ve grown convinced that the best way to fight crime is to give everyone a dog. With that may people out on the streets, watching and walking, it would be hard for anything to go unobserved. 

I suspect there’d be unintended consequences, however. The city’s budget for those blue plastic waste disposal bags would skyrocket, if nothing else.

There is a downside, of course. In addition to the kids’ debris, our floors are frequently littered with parts of livestock. Pig ears are a particular favorite. But at any given moment there can also be antlers and hooves and “bully sticks” scattered both thither and yon.

For the record, stepping on a partly chewed chunk of rawhide in the middle of the night is no less unpleasant than stepping on a Lego under the same conditions. One is simply slimier.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.