LEONARD 1989 – 1999
THE WORLD’S BEST WORST DOG SERIES - TAIL TWO
That first summer it was apparent that our little yellow lab was in need of a little bit of schooling.
So I enrolled him in Puppy Kindergarten.
I've been looking for the 8 x 10 certificate to prove to you that he really did graduate.
It used to be in a frame on the wall so that I could point to it when people complained about his bad manners.
But I can't find it.
In my search however, I ran into this guarantee for Englishtown Cutlery, which is weird because I don't even have any Englishtown Cutlery. And it says here that I can replace any piece that does not give satisfactory service.
Well, none of them do.
As far as Leonard's certificate? You will just have to take my word for it.
I remember the night well.
"He passed?" Sven asked all surprised.
"Yeah, well everybody passed and Leonard did have perfect attendance," I snapped and opened the refrigerator.
It's funny when I think back to how hopeful I'd been when I'd signed the little guy up for Puppy Kindergarten, six weeks earlier.
Yep, we were going to be the proud owners of a very well behaved dog. The kind of dog that everybody would wish was theirs. The kind of dog that would make people say things like, "Why can't my dog be more like your dog? Look at him. He doesn't jump on people, he doesn't beg, he doesn't bark, he doesn't whine, he doesn't even shed."
Well, in retrospect I can sort of understand why things went awry. 1990 had been a wild summer. We were still living in the house that Sven had built on top of the ashes and it was for sale. The boys were on two different traveling baseall teams. Sven was hammering away on the new house whenever he could and our plans were to be moved in before school started, which we were. We moved in THE day before the first day of school.
Yes, there was still that little matter of the chimney that wasn't finished, so that meant there was still that hole in the roof and most of the floors were still sub flooring and we all did have to stand around a propane heater in the living room and drink our coffee and hot chocolate in the mornings all the way through October, but otherwise things were going pretty good.
During that July and August, in between working at the factory, baseball games, racing through the house with a vacuum, swishing the brush around in the bowl for showings, staining board after board after board and sweeping up sawdust at the construction site, Leonard and I diligently worked together as a team, always trying to perfect our homework lesson, so as to be able to impress the instructor and all the other puppies and their masters in our next class.
"H E R E L E O N A R D," I would call.
You were supposed to have a special way to call your dog. My call was loud and e l o n g a t e d.
You see, when you use your special call, your dog will come bounding to you, because, A) you have a little liver snap in your pocket, B) your dog just plain old loves you and C) a well trained dog is a happy dog and all dogs just want to be happy.
The trick is to give your dog that treat over and over when he comes to you, but then every once in a while, just pet his head instead. This way your little puppy will learn that he is to come to you whenever you call, simply because you are calling him, not because of the treat in your pocket. And after awhile it will just become the norm. You call your dog and your dog comes.
THAT WAS AWESOME NEWS.
We also learned about dogs heeling. You see, all you have to do is say, "heel," and tug on the leash real quick like over and over and keep on saying, "heel," and keep on tugging real quick on the leash. I can still hear the teacher say, "Now remember class, the leash should never be taught. Your dog should NEVER pull on the leash."
Down stays were very important. First you say, "down" in a commanding tone as you give your hand signal. Then you say, "stay," in that same tone and you hold your hand, palm side out to your dog so that he knows he should stay down there until you give him the, it's okay to get up signal.
We learned that it was good practice to run and hide behind a tree so that your puppy would come searching for you. This little exercise naturally reinforces your dog's longing to stay connected, which in turn strengthens his urge to come when you call. And with this exercise Leonard and I could kill two birds with one stone. You see, Leonard, The Nose
, always found me and when he did he would jump on me, thus giving us extra time to work on his little obsession of jumping on EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING.
By the way, do you know what to do if your dog jumps on people?
You say, "Off."
Well, Leonard and I had our work cut out for us. And we did our very best that summer. We gave it our all. We worked and we worked and we worked.
And every Thursday we would show up to school at 7:00 P.M. and every Thursday it was the same. The first five minutes was play time. This is when your puppy could stick his nose in a classmate's ass, jump on top of the another student or chase a bunch of furry faced creatures around the room. It was loud, it was wild and it was Leonard at his best. He was very sociable and very cute. I may be biased, but I think he might have been the most popular puppy there. All the other puppies wanted to play with Leonard except for that crabby little wiener dog.
The instructor would blow her whistle and then it was time to get to work. We would first show off the progress we'd made and then we would learn a new lesson which we were to go home and practice for the following week.
I will never forget the proud moment that first time I stood on the opposite end of that room and bellowed out my special call, "H E R E L E O N A R D," and that yellow ball of fur came bounding to me, just like he was supposed to. The whole class was speechless. YES, I gave him a liver snap. Are you kidding?
Heeling was a little dicey. The leash was never slack when we showed our technique, but on the upside I was also never completely airborne.
We had a bit of a problem showing off our down stays. Leonard was always getting back up before I could say, "stay." So then I would say, "down," again and he would act like he was going to lay down, but then he'd pop back up before I could say, "stay."
His obsession with jumping on people seemed to be an issue that even perplexed the instructor. Leonard was like a spring on a trampoline and even though the word "OFF" seems like a relatively easy word to understand, he just couldn't. I don't know if it was our pronunciation or what, but it almost seemed as though he was hearing the word, "JUMP."
There was one lesson however that Leonard excelled at. Matter of fact he was top in his class with this particular exercise. It was the one where you pat the table and say, "Here puppy."
Now, I thought this was a bad idea right from the get go. But the instructor said that canines should be comfortable when they visit the Veterinary Clinic, which is where the classes were being held. The instructor wanted the puppies to understand that it was not scary to get up on top of a table for an examination. And once your puppy was standing on the table, you were supposed to look inside his ears and his eyes, open his mouth, rub his legs and things like that. Well Jesus, Leonard loved that. And the thing is, we'd all been trying like hell to keep him off the kitchen table at home, way before he ever even went to school. But, I kept my mouth shut. It was the only part of the one hour long class that I could count on him not fucking up.
By the sixth week, he was about as good as he could be.
I had butterflies in my stomach on our way to the final exam. Leonard was riding shotgun and he didn't seem nervous at all with his head hanging out the window. I pulled on his tail so that he would come inside. I told him that I knew I was going to be so proud of him and that he had come such a long way and he was such a good boy. When we got to the parking lot we sat there for a moment. I took his head in my hands, turned his face toward mine, looked directly into his big brown eyes and said, "Leonard, if you could please just not be a total prick for this test, I will take you to the A&W."
We walked in the door for the last class of Puppy Kindergarten.
The whistle blew and I pulled Leonard off the golden retriever he had pinned.
Play time was over. It was D Day.
We began with our special calls and by the grace of God Leonard sprinted to me with zeal. I was delirious and I gave him TWO liver snaps and a root beer float and fries flashed in front of my eyes.
Next, we all got in a long line. The instructor explained that we were going to play follow the leader and all heel together, Instead of line-dancing we were going to be line-heeling. Well, this is when things got ugly. Believe it or not we ended up right behind the crabby little wiener dog and Leonard could not keep his nose out of that little wiener dog's corn hole and that little wiener dog turned around and started bitching about it and then the two started to tumble, upsetting the entire Feng Shui of the line and then all the other dogs started freaking out and then Leonard whipped around, and I was all tangled up in the, not so slack
, leash and then he jumped on top of the poodle that was behind us and pretty soon the whole place was just like a wild west gun fight in a bar, complete with bullet holes in whiskey barrels, glasses shattering and stools flying.
The whistle blew above all the chaos and everyone pulled their pooches back into the line and then they all glared at me and the spring on a trampoline.
No, we did not stop at the A&W.
We went home and I dug in the refrigerator for a beer.