Friday, April 20, 2012

• "R" is for Recall

"Recall" is the fancy term dog trainers use when they ask a dog to come. When I was growing up we called it "come".

When I was growing up no one took their dog to a trainer. If a dog pee-peed in the house you rolled up a newspaper and swatted the dog on the behind (in the South, put the emphasis on the first syllable: be-hind). We had newspapers because there was no Internet. In Fairfax, Virginia, we got two newspapers a day. The Washington Post reported what went on the previous day and overnight; the Washington Star filled you in on what had occurred that day.

When I was growing up some dogs obeyed and some didn't. The bad dogs lived their entire lives in fenced-in yards. These snarling, irritable beings barked incessantly at children. The situation would have been better if we children walked on the other side of the street, but, confident in the knowledge that we were safe, we preferred to antagonize dogs. Owners did nothing but yell at those dogs. Those dogs never went to a trainer.

No one told us our collie, Sheba, had "separation anxiety" or "inappropriate elimination." We just shut her upstairs when we left so she would pee on the linoleum steps and not the living room rug. "That god damned dog!" my mother fumed when Sheba ate a couch cushion. Instead of asking a dog trainer to rid Sheba of her "destructive behavior," we thrust her nose in the flaky foam and swatted her with a newspaper.

When I was growing up, no one bragged about getting a dog at the pound. That's just what you did. Hardware stores sold leashes. Grocery stores and feed supply stores sold dog food. How my parents, especially my father, would have laughed at the idea of socialization classes for puppies or canine hydrotherapy.

It wasn't the good old days: it just was.

I'm glad that today we know better than to stick a dog's nose in urine or to swat it with a newspaper. I'm glad that animal shelters are accountable and that more and more people emphasize the importance of animal rescue. When I worked for a veterinarian, in 1978, we put to sleep an otherwise healthy two-year-old dog because there was no cure for hip dysplasia. Now veterinarians achieve miracles. And dog owners can find advice on the Internet or get help from an animal trainer.

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