I can’t call it dog “training,” because I don’t know anything about dog training I didn’t pick up empirically and probably much of it is wrong. I never dealt with dogs much before I moved here. But in my admittedly limited experience, if you want a dog to bond to you and consider your desires important at all times you’d better start when it’s weaned at the latest. Success with a dog that hasn’t known you all its life depends on the dog.
Of the original pack, the only one that really cared what I thought was Magnus the Golden Retriever. The others liked me fine and depended on me to maintain their daily schedule but didn’t think it important to obey me if something more interesting was going on somewhere else. I lived with Ghost for more than eight years and he never considered any command of mine more compelling than a suggestion which he was free to disregard. Little Bear, who joined me when he was a fuzzy little puppy, thought I was a god to be loved and feared. And even he became completely deaf if there was something worth chasing and he could get away to chase it, figuring it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.
Laddie the Corgi was seven years old when he joined me, had lived his whole life in a wildly different environment, and was separated from his person in a way that was pretty clearly disorienting if not downright traumatic. So I was prepared to be patient as he settled in, but for a long time I thought it was going to be one of those deals like Ghost where I’m just the nanny. He naps through most of the day and didn’t really care most of the time if I paid attention to him. He gradually learned to come to me when he needed out or something else. We developed a schedule and he held me to it and so got along fine, but for most of the past year I wouldn’t really say he was “my” dog except in the technical matter of possession.
But lately his behavior toward me has changed subtly and we’ve grown closer, with him behaving less independently and not acting so confused or even alarmed when I did something with him that wasn’t on the usual script. He has suddenly shown an interest in coming with me when I went off on one of my mysterious human forays out of the cabin.
For the past few evenings I risked taking him for his regular evening walky without the leash, just to see if he’d stay close and what happened when – inevitably – he flushed a rabbit and wanted to chase. And bless his heart, yesterday evening it finally happened and he obeyed immediately when I called him back. He came running back to me and I praised him like he’d won the Nobel in Physics and he acted like that was just the greatest thing that had ever happened, and then he trotted off to take his dump in the usual place and we headed back to the cabin and his cookie.
And that was the first time I – and maybe he – felt like he was my dog.