The pup is beautifully behaved around the trainer, paying heed to his commands to sit, or stay, minding his manners and ignoring the chewy treats thrown his way till he’s allowed to mop them up in one greedy gulp. “Can you teach him not to bite?” I ask, but the mutt hasn’t so much as bared his teeth in the trainer’s presence. “Bad habit,” the trainer mutters, though it’s unclear whether the reference is to the dog or its master.
In his absence, the puppy is a glutton, eating anything that comes its way – soap, socks, candle wax, flowers, paper, shoes, books, plastic bags – with a habit of locking his jaws around anything that moves, attaching himself to an ankle, or elbow, to draw blood. “You must say no with authority,” the trainer tells me. I draw on my reserves of dignity to admonish the creature at which he goes “yow-wow-wow” so loud, I have to bribe him with biscuits to shut up.
Now that he’s been around for a few months, the novelty has worn off, so the kids are no longer at hand to take him down for walks, or to the vet for shots. If my wife and I have to go out in the evening, you can count on their reluctance to babysit the pup. But leave him alone and he’ll rip into the quilt, tear up the cushions, and make a mess of the house plants. Leash him and he’ll cry so loudly, the neighbours have called to ask if someone was ill at home.
He’s taken over our bed, demanding the use of one arm which he uses as a pillow, growling at the television which he doesn’t like, snapping at any pages that rustle while I try to read with the remaining hand. We’ve given up on furniture that he’s gnawed at, and if any socks are missing, you’ll find them in his bed — but with holes in them.
If he has to go in front of the trainer, he manages to look suitably contrite, yet he’s made a habit of marking his territory at the feet of guests who wonder why we haven’t been able to toilet train him yet. He’ll sneak off with visitors’ evening bags, glasses or mobile phones, which they should have the sense to place out of his reach, and then look offended when I don’t offer to replace them because they’ve been chewed on by the pup.
He likes a lick of whiskey, which he manages every time someone puts a glass down on the table. He’s learnt to get at the children’s cold coffee in the mornings, and inveigled his way into being fed surreptitiously by my wife on a diet of her zucchini muffins and banana cakes — neither of which the family is partial to. Because he hates being alone, he cuddles up next to the laptop – which is now missing several keys – and likes to observe my reaction when he throws a paw at random on the keyboard that causes things to appear or disappear on the monitor.
“Bad habit,” I reprimand him, but he’s already snuggled into the jacket and is snoring lightly — no doubt dreaming about more upsets to cause when he wakes. Now if only I could move my hand sufficiently to type out this column to send to the editor who’s been texting increasingly rude messages about its delay. “Bad habit,” I’d like to say — or maybe I could just send the dog trainer her way.