I am making the bed when I hear the happy patter of Angus’ paws as he races up the stairs. He sticks so close to me in the house that his nickname could be Velcro. He loves to leap on the bed when I am trying to get the covers in order — something about the billowing sheets and the flying duvet is enthralling. But his enthusiasm makes bed-making impossible.
He arrives at the top of the stairs and I sigh, block the doorway, put my hands up in the halt position, and bark out, “Back!” A very useful command. It stops him cold.
Am I imagining it, though, or does his little face collapse in disappointment? He lies down on the hall rug and looks up at me — mournfully, I think.
I finish making the bed unmolested, but at what cost? Sometimes I worry that all of this training, all of this “Down” and “Stay” and “Leave it” and “Back” and “Come here,” is making me a tyrant and breaking Angus’ spirit.
On the walk earlier this morning, I made him stop staring down a squirrel. I wouldn’t let him eat a piece of jelly toast (!) that was lying in the grass. I had him sit and lie down at every corner. I stopped him from barking at Billy, the amiable dog who lives down the street and who likes to lie in the doorway and watch the world go by.
Did Angus have any fun at all?
Of course, I only worry about this occasionally, when I feel like Angus is growing up too fast and losing his puppy playfulness — the same playfulness that, truth be told, had me on my last nerve a few weeks ago.
In the mornings, he is obedient to the core and so sweet it makes my heart hurt. He matches his pace to mine when we walk; he follows all commands, whether voice or gesture; he keeps an eye on me with those dark eyes and anticipates my next move. We can’t even work on “Drop it” in the mornings, because I can’t get him to put any contraband in his mouth.
But if I am ever feeling sentimental, all I have to do is wait for afternoon. You can see it creeping upon him every day around 4 or 5 p.m. — willfulness, disobedience, agitation.
It doesn’t matter how much exercise he’s had, nor how much rest. In the late afternoon and early evening, he is crazy.
He nips tissues from the bathroom trash and shreds them on the living room floor. He goes into a frenzy of digging in the backyard, and if I call him into the house he tries to dig straight through his foam-rubber bed.
He wants to kill every squirrel he sees; he barks at every sound he hears — car doors slamming, passersby laughing, neighbor boys playing. He won’t let me put my shoes on, but tugs at my socks and my laces and whirls around me like a cyclone.
In those moments, I am pretty sure that nobody would accuse us of overtraining our dog or sucking away his spirit.
The truth is, training is good for dogs. It keeps them safe and it keeps us sane. Dogs like routine, they like to understand the rules, they need to know their place in the pack. That “Back” command doesn’t just keep Angus out of the room while I’m making the bed; it reminds him that I am in charge and that he must do what I say.
And while in the mornings I wish he had a little of the evening’s spunkiness, at night I know we still have a long way to go.
Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel is not a dog expert, just a dog lover. She is chronicling the first months of her puppy’s life on these pages.
Coming June 30: Angus rebels! Read all of the Puppy Chronicles at startribune.com/puppy.