RITUAL, RULES, AND ROUTINE are writer John Katz’s three guidelines for successful living with dogs. And, dogs do the teaching.
Tashtego (now shortened to “Tash”) realized immediately the way to learn the 3 R’s was to follow Heidi’s and Jerry’s lead. At this, he proved adept.
The first test came when, after 4 nights, Tash objected to sleeping in his crate. One plaintive bark alerted us to his wanting to be upstairs with the rest of us. The next night we brought a dog bed upstairs and motioned that he should jump up on the big bed. He did, and Heidi and Jerry glared at him. He jumped down so we placed his bed on the floor near the big bed, put his blanket in it and he hopped right in, sleeping through the night with no further ado. Ritual established.
Test Number Two was whether we could leave Tash out of the crate when we went to the Redwood Health Club at 5 AM for Bill’s swim and my spin bike class. When he stopped getting up with us, instead opting to stay buried under his blanket, it was worth a try. Not wanting to jinx the experiment I said not a word– all the time thinking we could come home to the aftermath of a dog fight: vet bills, blood, a horrible mess.
Instead, we arrived home to find three dogs with waggy tails, needing to go out but mostly wanting breakfast.
As the lyrics from the Mamas & the Papas go, “Sing for your supper, and you’ll get breakfast . . ..” Not exactly three voices singing like sweet songbirds, but, Bill, quick on the uptake, produced three breakfasts. Routine established.
And then there was Christmas Eve. Bill and I were already in trouble with Jerry for botching this sacred ritual in the past. A few years ago, depending on the gift store at the dog-friendly Stanford Inn for cute toys, and not knowing that its proprietors had quit carrying cute, but not locally made toys, we tried substitutes: A bright yellow ball and a chew toy. Insulted, Jerry disappeared under the bed and would come out only after being bribed with treats. Uh oh.
If you think dogs don’t know how to pout, you don’t know Jerry. He can do it better than any little kid. Last year, when I mistakenly gave Heidi her present first (I should have known better) and then tried to give the identical toy to Jerry, he refused to take the toy, became sullen and withdrew from the festivities, pouting for the remainder of the evening. Second uh oh.
Knowing that chances of another misstep were high, but thinking I had minimized them, I assembled three bags of identical toys from the Barkery. I tried to give Jerry his toy first. Heidi, recognizing the iconic paw print bags, immediately lunged for ALL of them. Heidi and Tash then got into a nasty fight. My vision of vet bills and blood morphing into reality, I grabbed a couple of bags and swatted Tash and Heidi while admonishing them in my most authoritative, law enforcement-y voice to cease and desist. Bemused, Jerry sat on the sidelines. A truce was called, with Tash and Heidi retreating to separate corners, while the cute chew toys remained untouched, to survive at least for another day. Reminder to self: try something else next year.
On Saturdays, Heidi and I walk with the Saturday Morning Walking Group that meets, rain or shine, at the Redwood Health Club. While Heidi and I walk, Bill and Jerry visit the Farmer’s Market and other downtown purveyors of food and supplies. So, we decided Tash should accompany Bill and Jerry. Unless there is a trip to Friedman’s or Rainbow Ag involved, the routine is that Jerry stays in the car. With this routine, Tash did not agree. Bill, thinking he had sufficiently informed Tash of the stay-in-the-car rule as he exited to do some shopping on School Street, was surprised (!) when Tash jumped over his head to start a jaunt of his own – down School Street. Fearing the worst, Bill, already limping due to a bad knee, chased him. Only after inspecting several yards on the North end of School Street and West to Todd Grove Park, did Tash allow himself to carried back to the car, occasioning a passing pedestrian to comment that they gave new meaning to “taking your dog for a walk.”
With Bill now only minimally ambulatory, my walking three headstrong dogs became a challenge. I tried using three short leashes. Devising unique paths around my legs, three dogs took me for one such walk. No, that wouldn’t work. Lois, a good friend, suggested using a gizmo by which two dogs would be on a lead to each other with a single leash hooked to a swivel in the middle of the lead. We hesitated doing this, fearing a major scuffle. But finding myself confronted by 3 dogs wanting to go for a walk, and it being Friday morning when a walk was expected (remember: rules, ritual, routine), I figured the gizmo was worth a try, especially considering the alternative of dealing with 3 disappointed, hyper dogs.
Slipping collars over Heidi’s and Tash’s heads, and hooking the gizmo to each collar, I linked the gizmo’s swivel to one long leash. I figured we’d do a trial run on the driveway. A second leash for Jerry and off we went. Reaching the gate – with no snarls, growls, bites, or other signs of resistance – I opened it and off we went. After years of being dragged by Heidi, I confess to no small satisfaction seeing her being dragged around by Tash. In fact, walking them in this manner was easier than walking them separately. Most of the tugging was between Heidi and Tash, leaving Jerry and me to follow in wonder. Constantly telling them they were “good doggies,” we walked in this fashion through the neighborhood.
Immediately upon returning home I called Lois to thank her for the gizmo. Ritual, rules and routine triumph over headstrong Jack Russells. Who woulda thunk it?