My rescue dog, a handsome black male (altered) Pit Bull mix, is now probably about three years old—no one knows for sure how old he was when the animal shelter picked him up roaming with a dog pal down the street. He’s always been highly intelligent which leads him to question, in his dog way, all my commands to sit, stay, come and so on—not out of stubbornness, it seems to me, but out of a keen sense of what matters to him and may be useful in some way, and what is simply human foolishness.
The result: a beautiful dog who sometimes goes his own way.
In the way of adoring owners, I was slowly adapting to him rather than he adapting to me—how human, since we usually get along with other people by making the same kind of compromises. But I was also getting annoyed and shouting at him, which caused him to droop with what almost seemed like depression.
To the rescue came the amazing dog trainer here, Indigo Ataki. He commands a group of seven or eight devoted followers with their assortment of dogs. We meet every Sunday afternoon in one of the parks, or occasionally at the mall, to the astonishment of shoppers.
It has become clear to me that Indigo, a tall, handsome man of great authority, is training us as well as our dogs—and we need to be trained first.
He does not permit baby talk to dogs. Many women use it. It has become clear that saying, “Come, Sweetie” in a treble voice may work with your lover but not with your canine.
Actually it probably doesn’t work with either.
And no bending down, patting, beseeching, which we women owners are prone to do.
Instead, we must first of all stand tall and claim our authority.
“Who’s the pack leader?” Indigo asks before the class is over.
“I am!” we each shout, probably for the first time in our lives although such a pronouncement may have been appropriate in many other situations.
Dogs obey their pack leaders. No matter what their breed mixture or personality—and there are some wild ones here, and no pure-breds—they recognize authority just as small children do.
Pip hasn’t yet learned to fix his gaze on me and keep it there, as Indigo’s two dogs do. That may come later. It is not the gaze of adoration but simply of strict attention.
But he has learned, in concert with the other dogs, to sit, lie down, walk on a loose leash (this has made our walks a real pleasure), and listen. In time I know he will learn to come when I call which is still challenging, given the intriguing smells along all the trails here.
And he even goes to his rug when one of his favorite human friends comes to make a call, which I consider a triumph.
Indigo doesn’t believe in handing out dog treats for good behavior, which can become a nuisance. Instead, praise is all—heartfelt and sturdy as our commands.
“Who’s the pack leader?”
And they all listen.