Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obedience

There is a local pet store (which shall remain nameless) that I often frequent for dog toys and the occasional grooming service. The staff is generally courteous and their variety of pet accoutrements is unparalleled, so we often take our dog Sandy with us to walk the aisles and interact with other customer’s pets. While Sandy is certainly not the best-trained canine in the world, she has not yet acquired a taste for human flesh and other than excitability; she tends to be pretty well mannered.

Now like most pet stores, they offer in-house obedience classes to the general public that teach the animal basic commands and obedience. What is unusual about this particular location is that they employ a man-dog team that I will refer to as “The Instigators.” Their strategy is simply, yet devastatingly effective:

1. Locate unsuspecting pet owner that has dog in tow and silently stalk them as the wander the aisles. (This is known in the business as Puttin’ a Creepin’ on someone)

2. Using hand signals to indicate timing, have the instigator dog approach the customer’s dog and invade said canine’s personal space in order to elicit a reaction.

3. Once the customer’s dog has been thoroughly riled up, loudly issue a “sit” command to your instigator dog causing him to instantly become motionless.

4. Draw other shoppers’ attention to the contrasting behavior of your highly trained (and suddenly lethargic) animal and the unbridled excitement of the irresponsible customer’s pet.

5. Condescendingly remind the customer that the store offers training courses for “disobedient” pets such as yours and then loudly issue the heel command in order to lead your dog calmly away from the distasteful scene you have caused.

On more than one occasion, my wife and I brought Sandy to the pet store in order to pick out a new toy and encountered the previously mentioned dynamic duo. The first time it occurred, I was at the register while I was waiting to pay for a squeaking rubber chicken. The instigator dog approached us just about the time Sandy had calmed herself and taken a seat beside the register. He proceeded to nudge and sniff my dog until he was able to elicit a reaction, at which time the in-house “dog whisperer” told him to sit.

The employee then sidled up to me and loudly inquired as to whether I was aware that they offered canine obedience classes for people with “spirited” dogs. I came dangerously close to asking him if he had learned any other skills in prison, but thought better of it. Instead I pretended to be engrossed by the latest issue of Dog Fancy magazine until he moved on to a rather fidgety Labrador.

I later recounted the events to other pet owners only to find that they have had the same experience. Having actually viewed some of the classes in progress, I have a few theories as to how our instigator dog was trained and why he reacts so favorably:

Scenario A – There is a windowless, soundproof room hidden behind the parrot food where the dog is taken. Each time the animal proves to be uncooperative, the trainer administers a set of gradually intensifying electric shocks using a car battery wired to a set of off-brand windshield wiper blades. As the voltage courses through the dog’s body, the trainer chants a common code word (like “tweezers”) that the dog will associate with the pain even when amongst the public. In this way, the trainer can mentally transport the dog back to its last date with 450 cold cranking amps and ensure an immediate response to commands.

Scenario B – The animal is brought under control by an alternating system of sleep deprivation and medicinal cocktails. Before the store opens, employees mix a can of Alpo with 2 Xanax tablets and a dollop of Prestone Extended-Life Anifreeze. This calms the animal by combining a slowed central nervous system with acute organ failure. At the end of the day, the dog is placed in a room and forced to watch Bill O’ Reilly outtakes at full volume in order to prohibit unauthorized relaxation.

Scenario C – The dog is actually an elaborate animatronic robot designed by a prestigious Japanese conglomerate and distributed to pet stores across the United States. The illusion of obedience is created by manipulating a small remote in the operator’s pocket that is disguised as a Milk Bone treat. In order to ensure that the device’s authenticity is never questioned, the robot can even urinate on command thanks to an internal reservoir of Country Time Lemonade and a rotating nozzle sprayer.

To be fair to this employee, he may be a perfectly capable dog trainer, but I dare say that the general public is unaware of what credentials to seek in a canine behavior expert. If I look for a mechanic, I want them to be ASE Certified. If I am looking for an accountant, I want them to have a CPA license. If I am looking for a urologist, I want them to have abnormally small hands, but I have no idea what to look for in a dog trainer. So I took to the Internet and found my answer: The Tom Rose School.

Located in the heart of the Midwest, the Tom Rose School allows everyday people (with verifiable income) to become extraordinary trainers through a proven twenty week course. For only $12,000, you too can become an accredited associate trainer by completing the requirements set forth in the syllabus. But why stop at an undergraduate degree when you can shell out another $5,000 dollars and obtain the status of “Master Dog Trainer?” For the real overachievers, there is even a post graduate degree that will only set you back another $4,000 and earns you the title of “Advance Master Dog Trainer.” Even if you do not live in Missouri, they offer on-campus dormitories complete with private bedrooms and communal showers.

It is worth noting that all tuition prices include a discount for your participation in the “clean-up” program. The clean-up program involves making sure that the area utilized for training is uncluttered (translation: you will be on poo-duty.) If you wish to opt out of said program, it will cost you an extra $95 a week in tuition. If all this sounds like a dream come true, it will only cost you a $100 non-refundable application fee to discover whether or not you are Tom Rose material.

Lately I have refrained from taking my pet in the store, but if I am ever approached again I will simply reply that I am unable to place my dog under the care of someone who does not receive the Tom Rose alumni newsletter.

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