For New Years, Barkley and I went to visit some good friends a few hours south of Saratoga. They had just moved into this great cabin in the woods and we arrived in between snowstorms. It was early enough in the season that no one was pissed off at winter yet, about being cold and shoveling out the driveway for three months. We played board games and drank hot buttered rum and moved our sleeping bags around the wood stove. It was really nice.
Barkley was in doggie heaven the whole time. He’s grown up quite a bit since my friends saw him last, which was almost six months ago. On a walk with Barkley the other day, someone asked if I had sent him to obedience school. And while he’s never received formal training, it certainly takes a village to teach a dog to listen and behave. My friends and family have made a huge impact on Barkley in the year we’ve been together.
I got Barkley when he was two months old, a squirmy, curious puppy that needed around the clock attention. It was a spur of the moment decision, right after I graduated college and had more free time on my hands than I knew what to do with. I was living in Philly and had heard about man whose German shepherd had gotten pregnant, on accident, by a husky. My boyfriend at the time drove me out to the suburbs in his boat of a Buick, just to take a look. Barkley was quiet and a little shy, playing by himself in the kitchen, pushing his food dish around with his paws. Already I could tell how smart he was. I bundled him up in my arms and took him home.
On the ride back to Philly, as the sky shifted to black, I rang my dad to tell him the news.
“Dad. Guess what I got?”
“A job,” my dad exclaimed. He was very excited indeed.
“A dog,” I answered, matching his excitement.
The ‘I got a job’ conversation would go better for my dad a few months later, but for the moment I was raising a puppy.
When spring rolled around that year, Barkley and I moved out of the city and into the country. We lived on a friend’s horse farm and spent the summer swimming in the cleanest and in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the Delaware River.
Still not yet a year old, I was having a difficult time training him. I remember my friend Murff, who has always had a way with dogs, telling me that the sooner I could snap him out of the puppy phase of his life, the better.
Ah, the puppy phase. Seemingly adorable but they have the attention span of a goldfish excited to see the castle in his bowl every five seconds.
Consistency, Murff told me, you have to be consistent. If you give a dog a command, you have to make them do it. If they learn, even once, that you don’t mean what you say, then you’re in trouble.
Towards the end of summer I got the reporting gig at The Saratogian. Barkley and I paid Murff a visit before we left town for good. He gave Barkley some commands and Barkley easily obliged him.
“He’s better,” I said proudly.
“No, his owner is better,” Murff replied.
The tips I’ve picked up from my dog loving friends and family were vital to shaping Barkley.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:
- Be consistent and follow through, always.
- Get in the habit of training your dog every day. Little things like making them sit and stay before eating their food or going outside can make a big difference.
- If you are having problems walking your dog on a leash, don’t let their nose touch the ground. Once dogs are following a scent they aren’t listening to you, just their nose.
- When they are whiny and acting like a little kid throwing a tantrum, ignore them. Trust me, you don’t want that to be the way your dog learns to get your attention.
- When they listen to your commands, praise them.
- Don’t go overboard training them with treats; they’ll start ignoring you when you don’t have any.
- Try to keep in mind that your dog is dependent on you; they look to you for everything. Dogs usually reflect their owners on many levels.
I arrived in Saratoga at the end of racing season nearly alone. I say ‘nearly alone’ because I had the company of my dog Barkley. I moved here to work at the paper and was compelled by the town. The wide streets here are rich and beautiful; there’s history in the woods and water. And, it is a dog town.
But moves are rough. The transition comes with a certain degree of anxiety and maybe even more so for our canine companions. You can’t just sit a dog down and explain the plan to them; they just have to trust and follow along.
So when my landlord told me, the day before my first day of work, he was sending someone over to my house to finish calking the shower, I winced.
It would be Barkley’s first long stint of being alone in a new house, and who knew what my pup was capable of getting into. I reasoned that if I got up early, ran to the store and bought a crate, I would have something tangible to secure my worries in.
Lugging the crate into the house and assembling it while simultaneously assembling my first day of work outfit, I felt a teensy bit better about abandoning him.
That feeling continued for, oh I don’t know, about twenty minutes.
The IT-guy was showing me how to log into my new computer when I saw my property manager’s number flash across my cell phone.
“Excuse me for a second,” I mumbled, “I have to take this.”
On the other end of the line was an extremely pissed-off property manager.
I tried, briefly, to conceal my panic as I sat listening to a breathless woman, a barking dog and several people yelling in the distance.
“His name’s Barkley,” I said, snapping briefly out of shock and into solution mode.
And it worked. A group of neighbors, a contractor and a real estate agent managed to gather him up and herd him back inside.
“He was swimming,” the property manager said flatly as the commotion was tapering off.
“He, went what?” I whispered, now backing out of the newsroom.
“Swimming. He busted out of his crate, jumped out your window, crossed the road, and went for a swim in the lake.”
She was not amused.
Now Barkley lies dozing at my feet and I can look back and laugh at the madness he created. I upgraded the crate situation but scarcely use it anymore. He’s adjusted to our new home, fallen in love with countless dogs at the dog park, sits politely for the treat-wielding teller at my credit union and seamlessly bribes kettle corn out of the copy editors hands. He’s a happy dog and I’m a pretty happy human, but when the conditions are right, he can cause about as much fuss as strong arctic winds in the snowbelt. Lake effect.