I don’t remember much about my bio-mom, but there are two recollections of note.  One occurred four days after my littermates and I were born.  My mom was still tired from birthing us, but as she was lying there nursing her pups she opened an eye and spotted a little beetle crawling among us.  She casually arose and stomped on the insect with her formidable paw.  As she slumped back down to rest, she said “Sucks to be a litter bug.”  The second thing I recall is her teaching us that we will never find anything worthwhile unless we exhibit curiosity.  “Discovery belongs to the curious,” she said.  As usual, she was right.

And so, as my life has raced along, I have been curious about virtually everything.  But I somehow feel that curiosity was always in my nature, and the motherly advice, however well meaning and accurate, was probably unnecessary.  If you know my history, you know that curiosity has served me well.  I have discovered friends, family, and new adventures everyday.  The “find” may simply be a new sight or smell.  Or it may be someplace entirely new to visit and explore.  Today I was running around at a park when I saw a young boy drop a candy wrapper on the grass.  Being curious, I had to run over and sniff it.  Then, being helpful, I picked it up and brought it over to the boy, thinking he may still need it.  A lady who appeared to be his mother said, “Look Jason.  Even that nice dog knows you shouldn’t throw trash on the ground.  Now go put it in the trashcan.  It sucks to be a litterbug.”

It sounded familiar, but I didn’t see any beetles around.  That’s curious.

Dog Training 101

People have been lining their coffers for years by selling their purported knowledge of dog behavior and training techniques to gullible “owners” of unmanageable mutts.  So, with all due respect to capitalizing on capitalism, I can disclose to you a few free simple secrets of addressing what people view as bad dog habits.  This is not to detract from the “expertise” that’s out there…OK, it is.  I advise you to ignore the experts and adhere to the following abridged rules which will result in happier, more well-adjusted dogs, and human beings who know how to please their pets.  Hmmm, I think I’ve talked myself into jumping on the bandwagon.  So, start with the three rules below.  For a more comprehensive view, you’ll have to wait for my dog training book, “Make Your Dog Happy, and Forget About Your Selfish Needs For Once”.

1.  Digging.  Understand that your yard is now the dog’s excavation field.  It is a place where dogs can exercise their archaeological and other exploratory talents.  Digging can also expose hidden IEDs and other dangers, saving the family from disaster.  For example, on the fifth of May I was digging in the yard and discovered a sink hole in which my family would have undoubtedly perished.  My discovery became known locally as the Sink Hole de Mayo.  But I digress.  If the dog is attempting to tunnel under the fence, you should ascertain the reason; there is invariably a legitimate justification for tunneling.  The grass could be greener over there, or there could be great food, romance and adventure.  (Sound familiar?  Think ‘vacation’.)  In other words, the dog’s OK.

2.  Jumping.  Jumping is almost as natural to dogs as watching TV is to humans.  Get over it.  Teach your young, elderly and disabled to brace themselves for impact.  Perhaps you could hold out a treat and give the dog something to jump for other than your body.  In addition, a couple of pair of Nike Air Lassies would be a nice gift for your jumping dog, to cushion the impact when he lands on your hard flooring.  In other words, the dog’s OK.

3.  Failing To Heel.  Most people get dragged on walks with their dogs.  They return home with dislocated shoulders, leash burns on their hands, miserable attitudes and vows that the experiences will never be repeated (but they always are).  I could tell you how to make your dog heel, but where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I advise you to purchase one of those leash extension devices and set the leash to play out for – oh, about 2 miles.  That way, it feels like you have some control, you are conforming to your county’s leash ordinance, and most importantly, the dog is not forced to act like your conjoined twin.  In other words, the dog’s OK.

Get the idea?  See you at my book signing.

A Salute To Mr. Peabody

All too often, my dad calls my attention to the TV or computer screen to view something he thinks has educational value.  He forgets that some dogs (me, for example)  possess intrinsic wisdom and awareness which renders media sources unnecessary.  Nevertheless, he showed me clips from an animated feature he watched in the early sixties involving a dog genius and his child companion.  The characters, known as Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, traveled back in time via the WABAC machine invented by Mr. Peabody.  Once they arrived at a historic location, they found events were skewed due to Mr. Peabody’s having manipulated the machine’s programming.  This provided Mr. Peabody the opportunity to make things right and to subject Sherman to some of the most painful puns ever recorded.

Brilliant!!  I was transfixed.  Not only did the premise seem vaguely familiar – incredibly intelligent dog bearing a strange resemblance to me, hanging out with a kid who was somewhat less than astute – but it indulged the fantasies of many dogs to bash humans over the head with life lessons, one of which is to lighten is too crazy to be taken too seriously.

I was excited.  So, I immediately took a nap (hey..priorities).  I dreamed that I had invented a modern-day WABAC machine, and I took Dad back to the Roman Colosseum.  The Detroit Lions were going up against Tim Tebow and company.  Sold out stadium.  The concession stands were selling Ceasar’s Pizza.  Roman Polanski was producing the half-time show.  Autumn was in the air..the fall of Rome.  The P.A. system was too loud because Nero was fiddling with the controls.  A male lion had just consumed a woman convicted of  ‘tagging’  Hadrian’s wall.  She looked tasty, so the lion was obviously glad-he-ate-her.  Good times.  But it was getting late, so I took Dad for a bite at the olive garden before we returned.

A famous man (undoubtedly inspired by a dog) once said, “If you will it, it is not a dream.”  So I intend to start work on a real WABAC machine as soon as I can develop opposable thumbs.  I know the creation of Mr. Peabody and Sherman was credited to Ted Key, but you just know ‘ol Ted had a dog.  Do you think the idea for Mr. Peabody may have germinated in the mind of that creative canine?  Elementary, my dear boy.

Bite This

“Let’s take a bite out of crime.”  We’ve all heard that slogan.  I was never sure if it meant that we should do what we can to diminish criminal activities or that we should decriminalize biting.

People are funny about biting offenses allegedly committed by dogs.   They are understandably quick to vilify a dog who, without provocation, attacks a person or someone’s pet.  The offending dog is quarantined and sometimes destroyed, and the dog’s human companion may be subject to prosecution and/or civil liability.  But folks are quick to forget the vast number of  dogs wrongly accused of biting.  My dad is ashamed to admit that when he was a child, he bit his infant brother on many occasions because he believed his brother was a hideous alien monster (to this day, he still has doubts).  Dad always blamed the bites on the family dog.  His parents took my dad’s word over the dog’s, even though the elderly dog had no teeth (his parents had the investigatory and reasoning talents of garbanzo beans).  So, my dad skated and the beleaguered dog always wound up in the dog house.  When the dog died of infectious false accusations, my dad came clean and admitted the truth to his father.  His father’s response?  “Who cares?  Go take the trash out.”  Immortal injustice!!

On April 26 of this year, a woman in Chicago bit her dog repeatedly.  Was the lady quarantined or destroyed?  Hardly.  She will plea bargain down to misdemeanor inappropriate display of  affection and be sentenced to limiting her biting only to weekdays.  The scales of  justice require a little recalibration.  That’s a cause I could really sink my teeth into.  Meanwhile, smart dogs will have to avoid not only humans who bite, but also those who level wild, unfounded accusations at defenseless creatures who don’t even have a biting sense of humor.

Barbra Streisand’s Birthday Gift To Me

It’s common knowledge that dogs’ hearing is exactly 500 gazillion times better than humans, and you can triple that for Aussies.  I can hear a sneeze up to 2 miles away and can instantly identify the species, gender, age, ethnicity and snout size of the sneezer.  This impressive talent may be of great value in the wild, but it results in only limited domestic worth.  In fact, I’ve found that my enviable ears carry a few specific detriments.  One of these is listening to Mom and Dad.  I quickly learned to tune out their one-word instructions ( no, etc.), but other noises they emit truly strain my coping capabilities.

This morning, Dad read that it was Barbra Streisand’s 70th birthday.  He apparently is a big fan, because for two excruciating hours he launched into his version of every one of her greatest hits.  Some people, like Barbra Streisand, were born to sing and they can make some pretty impressive sounds even for my sensitive ears.  Others, like my dad, should be subject to felony indictment for any attempt at musical vocalizing.  He sounded like a cross between a severely wounded hyena and our car’s screeching tires at virtually every stop sign.  There was no place to hide, so I stuffed my head under a sofa cushion and rode it out until someone from the homewoners’ association came to the door and informed Dad that he was in violation of ordinances barring lewd and disgusting noises.  I thanked the Aussie gods that Dad’s vocal cords were finally brought to justice.

But the damage was done.  I’m making an appointment with my vet-analyst, as I’m already exhibitng symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic singing disorder).  While I’m out, I’ll pick up some noise-canceling headphones.  Now, Dad’s talking about sound-proofing a room just so he can ‘sing’ without risking a prison sentence.  Trouble is, he’ll probably take me in there while he generates his other-worldly noises.  I have not lived an angelic life, but I don’t deserve that kind of hell on earth.  Perhaps the military can utlilize Dad and his new room for interrogation purposes.  I’ll contact them.

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday, Barbra.  And..thanks a lot!!

Every Dog Has His Life

People always say that their dogs are part of the family.  So, it’s indeed unfortunate that we generally have much shorter life spans than our human family members.  A family may run through several dogs, so it becomes the challenge of each one, in the relatively limited time available, to make his/her mark, to become indelibly etched in the collective heart of the family.  This requires little, if any, effort on my part.  My magnetic personality, undeniable charisma, heroic nature and movie star looks sealed my place in the family hall of fame right out of the blocks.

Nevertheless, it chaps my paws to occasionally hear Mom and Dad reminisce about the wonderful attributes of the dear departed dogs who preceded me.  One in particular.  Her name was Sydney.  She was also an Aussie.  I’ve seen photos and must admit she was quite cute.  In fact, she and I would have undoubtedly had a hot and steamy romance if she had not suffered the misfortune of passing before she met me.  What annoys me is why they remember her as being so incredible.  For instance, they say, “She was so cool..she really had a mind of her own.”  Of course, they must think I have the mind of a capuchin monkey (which explains why I steal bananas off the kitchen counter, leaving peels on the floor for Dad to slip on).  What an inane thing to say.  What they mean is Sydney refused to do things most other dogs routinely did, like chase and return a ball.  A mind of her own?  I call it insubordination, calling for strong measures of progressive discipline.

But I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge my predecessors their posthumous adulation.  I will be content to assume my place, however short-lived, in this little slice of insanity I call my family.  Someday, some other dog will probably be hearing, “Flapjack was just about the best dog ever!”   I’ll be listening and humbly agreeing.

Baseball Should Go To The Dogs

As I switch back and forth like a TV zombie between a dog show on Animal Planet and a Yankees-Red Sox game, it occurred to me that “man’s best friend” is not represented whatsoever on the Major League stage of our national pastime.  Oh, we have mammals (Tigers, Cubs), birds (Cardinals, Orioles, Blue Jays), and even fish and snakes (Marlins and Diamondbacks), but the most recognizable, loving and loyal animals – the ones found in almost as many homes in this country as bags of Doritos –  are nowhere to be found on our big league diamonds.  This is nothing less than discrimination and defamation by omission.

Major League Baseball and team owners cannot assert that they couldn’t think of dog-team names.  Just think of the possibilities:  Baltimore Beagles, Chicago Chihuahuas, Boston Boxers, Arizona Aussies, Houston Huskies, St. Louis St. Bernards..the list of potentials is endless.  So why are dogs so obviously absent in the bigs?  Well, if living with my mom and dad has done nothing else, it has equipped me with the expertise to speculate on the irrational behavior of humans.  In this case, I think the answers are as sad as they are simple.  As much as humans love their dogs, canines lack the fearsomeness, cuteness or unique local identity to qualify for a major league moniker.  In addition, humans are just too close to their dogs to put them on a big league pedestal (anyone who poops on my lawn simply will not adorn my jersey and cap).

Now there’s a cute cocker spaniel in the dog show, and it’s 7th inning stretch time at Fenway, so I’m already forgetting why this seemed important a few minutes ago.  Back to zombie land…