Mighty Mack passed the training course we’ve been going to with the “Gentelman’s D”. He is too cool to be sent to his place by me and far too cool to “fetch”. Sitting, laying down and “staying” on command earned top marks.

We’re going on to the next stage of training and Jan, the trainer told me “Good. I know what the problem is and we’re going to work on it together.” He advised me in the meantime to carry a stick with me on walks and give Mack a quick swat when he ignores me. Let me put this into context: Mack is a bull mastiff. He is approximately 120 lbs. of pure muscle with a phenomenal pain threshold. These dogs were bred to wrestle poachers to the ground and hold them there—-without biting them to death. They’re big, ornery and lovable creatures. I refuse to work with an electric shock collar or a spiked collar. He wears a choke-chain for training, but basically that’s like a bee sting to an elephant. The stick was to be a small, thin switch or a piece of bamboo and I was to give him a flick over the rump if he patently ignored my commands.

The gardeners were busy next door, so I found a thin switch on their pile of green detritus as I walked down the drive. Past the cul de sac, I gave the command to sit. Mack looked at something extremely interesting in the middle distance, showed off his profile and completely ignored me. I gave the command again and he turned away from me. This is what dogs in puberty do. They are a lot like boys in puberty, but you cannot control them by docking their allowence. I tried one more time, no joy. So I flicked him with the switch. That got his attention, he sat down but the switch broke– it was old, dry wood. I quickly found another and we continued on our walk.

Oh heavens to Murgatroyds! The girls from the stable had been out hacking earlier in the morning. Fresh horse manure! Mack loves fresh horse manure. He wouldn’t listen when I told him “No!” and I managed to break another stick. Something told me the stick wasn’t really working out for us.

A little further along the way I reached down to give Mack a friendly pat on the chest and he flinched. He gave me a look:

Babe,” it said, “I don’t trust you since you hit me with that stick.”

I understand Mack’s looks perfectly.

I promised no more sticks, gave him a treat, he licked me all up my coat sleeve and I was pretty sure we were ok.

But he saw a nice pile of horse manure on the other side of the road and pulled me, flying like a kite over there. This was not cool. I jerked his chain, he looked at me, I thought “what now?” and had a brain wave. I stamped my foot, showed him my teeth and growled at him. He walked away from the manure with out even trying to eat any. A little further up, same story. He walked away without a taste. He tried a third time and all I had to do was stamp my foot. He ignored that manure pile and any other poop we came across on the rest of our walk. Even nicer, he engaged with me instead of snuffling for things to eat the whole way home.

I can’t believe I tried to train my dog by hitting him with a stick. What was I thinking?

All those months of jerking his chain (and almost dislocating my shoulder in the process), telling him “No!’ in a stern tone of voice was for naught. The problem was that “No!” means nothing to a dog. I might as well tell my boys to clean their room in Swahili! All I had to do was communicate with Mack in his own language. I hope he’ll be patient with me. 

* crossposted from my primary blog:

Do You Spikka My Language?


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