Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Edited by Whitaker Williams for the American Dachshund magazine, January, 1973
In time, one can adjust to almost anything - even Obedience School. By the end of the first lesson I had learned to "sit." A couple of lessons later I learned to "stay." But it was harder to teach me to "down" than most dogs. When your chest is only an inch off the ground when you are standing, just to eliminate that inch seems irrelevant. And from the point of view of a standing adult human being it is hard to ascertain whether I am standing, siting, or lying prone so, after four lessons when all the other canines collapsed gratefully at the command "down," I was still sitting. I caught up with the class two lessons later however. And when, at the end of the seventh lesson, the other pupils were heeling close to their master's leg with the leash tossed casually over a right shoulder, I was still struggling.
My father looked exasperated. "Ouijee, what gives? Are you stupid or just stubborn?" In answer I gave him the most withering look I could conjure up on short notice to warn him that he had better be nice or I would turn into Gomer Pyle again.
As I said, you can adjust to anything so I went to the eighth lesson with an esprit de vie, un coer heureus, and a hey nonny-nonny and a ha cha-cha knowing that after this there were only four more lessons to go and I was still surviving.
The lesson started without event. I noticed a new pupil, a Wire-haired Terrier named Cubby. It was obvious that he hadn't slept well the night before or had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed as he was glaring and growling at everyone. We all have our off days so I thought little of it. I decided that he had just been watching too many gangster movies on the late, late show. I hated myself for it but couldn't help thinking, "That mutt does not belong in Obedience School. He's the Reform School type."
Just before we took our recess Gene had us line up single file to exit out the back door. Just ahead of the door he was stationed with the Wire-haired and we all had to pass by, sort of like a reception line, but instead of shaking hands with each of us Cubby simply showed his teeth and snarled. It is a very unique twist for a formal party don't you think, but I'm afraid it will never catch on.
Gene had armed himself with a training wand or whatever they call it. It seems it is an electrically charged thing-u-ma-jig, and is supposed to induce obedience. I gather that when applied to a dog's epidermis it produces the same pleasurable sensation that a dentist's drill does when it hits a nerve.
During recess we learned that our dear little buddy, Cubby, had been expelled from another school, not for using a switchblade but for making do with his own teeth. The authorities issued an ultimatum that either Cubby be taught to conform to society or else! Gene, whose card reads "Whatever your problems - we can correct them," agreed to correct Cubby's problem. Now I wouldn't have my worst enemy "or elsed" so it was all right with me.
In the second session our new "tricky" trick was to learn the figure eight. It is done in couples. One master places his dog on the floor with commands to "sit" and "stay" and then moves back about twelve feet. A second master and his dog weave in and out, around the dog and then around his master, in a figure eight. This, I thought, could be fun done to music like a square dance.
Before we tried the exercise we were paired off, the Sheep Dog with the Abominable Snowman, a pair of Shepherds, the two Afghans and so on down according to size. And who do I end up with? The juvenile delinquent. But I was so happy that Cubby was being rehabilitated that I really didn't mind. To play it safe, however, Gene took the place of Cubby, who should have been stationed on the floor. Cubby's master stood at the other end of the figure eight with Cubby, on a short leash, between his legs. With my father I started weaving in and out. I wasn't afraid. Saint Francis would look after me. We made several successful passes and - then it happened. Cubby lunged, set his teeth in my side. I screamed in pain, my father almost had a stroke, and Gene pried Cubby's teeth off my rib cage. It all happened in just a moment, they could find no blood but we were all unstrung - mostly me.
I'm afraid that Saint Francis had just stepped out for a short beer. On second thought, no. It could have been much worse. No serious harm was done. Really good Saint Francis was in there pitching. But you can understand that I was all in favor of calling the whole thing off and being a dropout from O.S. as of that very moment.
Gene and my father decided against it. We stayed the next ten minutes until the end of the class. They didn't ask me what I wanted to do so I just waited in shock until the bell rang. Home had never looked so good and I settled down to lick my wounds. Father thought that I was just bruised but he soon discovered that I had been chewed by a couple of canine cuspids. I'd had enough for one day, and I was worn to a raveling thread. I went to sleep.
The next day we saw the veterinarian. I had already been given rabies shots; so there was no problem on that score, but there is always the worry about infection from a dog bite so I had to take six antibiotic pills over a period of three days. I take vitamins every day and I gobble them right down. They're not bad. But the antibiotic jobs! Ugh! I refused them until my father decided to bury one in a half teaspoon of ice cream. Man! Did I slurp it right down in a hurry. It was the first human food I had ever eaten. You know what? I could eat ice cream forever.
The next week we went back to school again. I had hoped the place would burn down but it hadn't. I felt like a guy getting back on a horse after he had been thrown in a steeplechase and had broken both of his legs and an arm or two. I began to tremble the minute we started off in the car and by the time we arrived I was vibrating like a harp string. I was shaking so badly that I think my teeth were chattering. If it hadn't been a hot night, I'd have sworn that I was having a chill.
The minute we stepped through the door I spied Cubby. In all honesty I had no impulse to rush up and kiss him to let him know that all was forgiven. Instead I backed right into my father. We then discovered that the monster was wearing a tight muzzle - one week too late. Impulsively I wished that it were made of wet rawhide and would shrink as it dried. Then I promptly unwished the wish. A fate like that I couldn't choose even for Cubby but I did hope that his muzzle was tight enough to hurt just a little - all right, quite a little!
The lesson began as usual. We all lined up and started walking around the room, heeling. Gene gave the command to toss leashes over right shoulders and make us heel without restraint. For the first time I cooperated. I couldn't get close enough to my father's left leg for whatever protection it might afford. A burned child dreads fire and, Man! I had been burned.
I behaved pretty well. I responded to all the commands, but like someone in a daze, and between each one I tugged at the leash with the rear exit door the main objective. Every other dog seemed a potential enemy and for the first time I was aware of how many were in the class. I felt all the calm composure of a not-too-apt swimmer, being tossed into a school of man-eating sharks, wondering, "Who gets the first bite?"
When recess eventually came I tugged toward the exit door. We didn't head for the wide open fields as usual but, without any collusion between the two of us, we both made straight for the car.
Father drove slowly. "Relax, Baby," he said. "You've had it and, believe me, so have I. We're not going back. You won't get your diploma but that doesn't matter. You have a Heidelberg scar instead. Wear it proudly! And you've learned all the important things; to sit, to stay, to come, and to mind me. And you know what 'NO!' means. You may not take top honors in a figure eight contest but who in the world can you figure eight with in suburbia?"
I stopped shivering. Life, once more, was a beautiful, delectable, wonderful bowl of cherries. I pressed my head against my father's chest to let him know I understood and then curled up in his lap. I sighed a happy sigh and went to sleep.
Ouijee had several columns running in the early 1970's issues of the American Dachshund magazine. This is one of his better ones. And yes, our paws sure are tired from typing it out! Unrelated mid-century photo source unknown.