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.