It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post about our Shetland Sheepdog, Riley.
He’s about a year and a half old now, and I’m happy to report that the training period is over.
Yup, I’m completely trained.
Really, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve had dogs my whole life, but it wasn’t until we got our first sheltie, Toby, that things went amiss. I guess I had never owned an intelligent breed before. Maybe I should have stayed away from dogs who are smarter than I am.
When Toby was a pup, my wife heard about a training method that involved hanging small bells from the door on the theory that the dog would learn to ring them when he wanted to go out. Toby learned that in about half an hour. It took only another 15 minutes or so for him to figure out that, when he rang the bell, one of us would arrive from wherever we were in the house. He didn’t necessarily have to go out when he rang the bell; he just wanted attention.
He had trained us to come.
I work out of the house, so I was home with Toby all the time. Like most dogs would, he adapted to my habits. My lunchtime was his lunchtime. My need for a break was his time for a walk. But somehow, my habits became his schedule, not to be deviated from by as much as five minutes. At lunchtime, he would show up in my office, sit at my feet, and stare at me. No barking, no whining. Just staring, like somebody waiting for your table in a restaurant.
“Couple of minutes,” I’d tell him. “I’m in the middle of something.”
The passive-aggressive staring continued. He’d be like, “Sure, no problem,” but he’d keep staring. He would have whistled an impatient little tune if he could have. It is impossible to work with someone staring at you.
He knew that.
He, and not I, decided that the command for “come” was “wait.” If he got out ahead of me on a walk, I’d say “Toby, wait,” to get him to stay where he was until I caught up, but instead, he’d come back to where I was. Well, okay, I thought, that works, too. Sometimes we’d meet people on our walks, and I’d say, “Toby, wait,” and he’d come, and I’d say, “Good boy,” and the other person would say, “But he didn’t do what you asked.”
I’d have to explain that, for Toby, “wait” was “come.” He had taught me to speak his language.
Toby also knew how cute he was. This is an advantage our dogs have over us. No dog in history has ever looked at a human and gone, “Awwww, would you like a treat?”
But shelties are like Kardashians; they really know how to use their looks. The head tilt. The sad look that means they’re begging, although actual begging is beneath a sheltie. The damn joyous-looking sheltie smile that could mean they’re happy, but could also mean they’re laughing at you.
Toby had this way of looking at me expectantly. I often didn’t know what he was expecting, but his demeanor was like, “Figure it out. And fast.” I think it was a negotiating technique. When I’d start suggesting things that he might want, he probably sometimes ended up with something better than what he had he wanted in the first place.
Okay, so Toby, my wonderful pal, passed over the LGBT bridge in 2014 and, after a period of mourning, we got Riley, who you can see as a puppy above practicing his head tilt. And I was determined I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes again. I was going to be the top dog, the pack leader, the alpha male.
And we started off really well. We’d only had Riley a couple of weeks before he knew “sit,” “come,” and “heel.”
But then things began to go awry. He would drop a toy on my foot while I was reading. “Go away,” I’d say. And he actually did, only to return with a different toy, as if believing it was his toy selection, not the idea of playing, that I had objected to. Then came the stare. I looked away and ignored him, as the training guides tell you to, but I could feel his beady little eyes boring a hole, and what felt like two…five…10 minutes went by, and I looked down again, and he was still staring at me, damned it! And now he had that expectant look on his adorable little face…
And I had once again been turned to mush by a sheltie.
So, as I said, Riley’s a year and a half old now, and we’re buddies. But mostly on his terms. “Riley, come,” I’ll say, and he will. Eventually. When he’s done chasing the squirrel. And when we approach the front door after a walk, he will sit down. “Let’s go in, Riley,” I’ll say, and there will be no movement. “Come on, it’s hot out.” Nothing. I know and he knows what he’s waiting for me to say, but I’m not gonna say it, because I’m the pack leader, damn it, but it is really hot. “Riley, wouldn’t you like to be inside with the air conditioning?” I say, knowing that won’t work, not because he doesn’t know what air conditioning is, but because that’s not what he’s waiting for. He’s waiting for the magic phrase, and he is infinitely more patient than I am. He’s waiting, and I’m sweating, and now…there it is…the sheltie smile. Yes, intellectually, I know he’s really panting, but with the smile, it sure looks like he’s laughing, and…oh, for crying out loud.
“Riley, you want melon?”
Yes, as a matter of fact, he does, and races into the house. That’s what he was waiting for me to say. He likes cantaloupe.
I have more to write about Riley training me, but I have to go now. Riley’s stare tells me it’s lunchtime.
See you soon.