Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks, Grocery Store Sincerity

Thursday: We try to teach Titus a new trick

Titus is a great dog. Sure, he has his flaws, like eating anything that’s remotely edible when your back is turned. Last month, our dog sitter came in and discovered that he had eaten most of a bag of loose lavender tea that I’d left on the counter. The week before, he’d opened up a box of Tootsie Roll-flavoured hot chocolate Keurig cups, then tore the foil off each one and ate all the powder inside them. For the next two day, his poo looked metallic and chocolate-y, all at the same time. After the tea incident, which didn’t seem to bother his stomach at all (well, it was organic), we started putting anything remotely food-like on the range hood above the stove. People come into our house and wonder why there’s chicken defrosting up there, or the fruit bowl is sitting on it, but at least it’s all safe. The one thing I’m eternally grateful for, though, is that he never eats his own poo. We had a yellow lab who used to do that, and it was disgusting. And kind of a weird circle of life—you eat what you poop and you poop what you eat? But enough about the poo. Actually there might be a bit more later—wait and see.

Anyway, Titus knows a lot of tricks. He’s pretty smart in his own goofy way–or maybe I should say astute and sneaky, based on some of his behaviour. Here are some examples of his regular, dog-like tricks as well as his more mercenary side:

1) He will sit if you ask him to. The duration of the actual sitting is, however, completely dependent on what else is happening at the time. For example, if someone interesting (OK, it doesn’t even have to be someone interesting, it just has to be SOMEONE) comes into the house, he gets very excited. You can ask him to sit, but his butt will graze the ground then he’s right back to licking the person’s pants. Which is NOT a trick. Just annoying. The same goes for when people are eating, people are drinking, squirrels on the lawn, birds are on the lawn, he’s in the car, he’s in the house, and most other occasions. Ironically, the only time he will sit completely still for as long as you want, is when you put his dinner bowl full of food down. He was trained somewhere along the way that he had to sit patiently until someone told him he could eat HIS OWN food. I make him do this for a second or two just to prove that he actually understands what sitting looks like. I’m sure he’s thinking, “Why am I f-ing sitting here? Yet I can’t seem to help it…” Who knows? But it’s cool that he will actually wait until I put the bowl down and get my hand out of the way of his teeth before he jumps in.

2) He will give you a high five if you ask for one. Technically, he’s “shaking a paw”, but he’s so uncoordinated that he just flails at you, and it actually ends up looking like a very awesome high five. Or it becomes a smack in the face if you’re dumb enough to lean down for it. Seriously, his paws are a menace. He jumped up on the bed the other night really enthusiastically, and punched me in the mouth. I’m pretty sure it was accidental, but then again, it could be his revenge for having to sit and wait to be told to eat his dinner.

3) He will NOT eat poo out of the cat’s litter box if you’re right there and tell him not to. We have two litter boxes—one in my upstairs bathroom and one in Ken’s downstairs bathroom. Why two litter boxes, you ask, when you only have one tiny little cat? Because she’s a total diva. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but she likes to pee downstairs in Ken’s bathroom and poop upstairs in mine. Is this affection or disdain? At any rate, if you are IN the bathroom, Titus will not eat anything out of the catbox. But he watches and waits for his opportunity. If you leave the bathroom and forget to hook the door closed, he will bide his time, waiting until the coast is clear, then run in for a “kitty treat”. Ken likes to torture him, by letting him “help” when it’s time to clean out the litter box. He stands there, looking so sad and deprived, as Ken scoops up the “treats”, ties them in a bag and puts them in the garbage. I’m sure Titus can’t understand why humans throw perfectly good food away—it must be like a starving person watching a restaurant throw perfectly good left-overs in a dumpster.

4) He has a wide vocabulary. He understands (but doesn’t always follow) commands like “Sit”, “Stay”, “Lie Down. I said LIE DOWN!!”, “Come here”, “Stop sniffing the cat’s bum,” and so on. He also knows dinner, supper, breakfast, treat, cookie, walk, car, up, down, bye-bye, go outside, go pee, and get the ball. In other words, he’s like a 100-pound toddler. He also seems to understand the relevance of “Titus, WTF?!” and “Get off my foot!”

But that brings me to the point of this story. If you say to Titus, “Get the toy”, he will get you a toy. It will, however, be a random toy, whichever is closest. So I’ve been trying to teach him to differentiate BETWEEN his toys, and it’s hard, let me tell you. He has a gigantic stuffed bull which is called “Moosey”, because the people we got him from thought it was a moose. It obviously has completely different horns, but Moosey works better than “Bully”. He also has a smaller stuffed pig, which, surprisingly, we call “Piggy”. I always feel like a character in Lord of the Flies when I tell him to get it, but it doesn’t have spectacles, so that’s OK (yes, a random literary reference, y’all). Finally, he has a sock. We call it “The Sock”. I was actually just telling my aunt about this and here’s the conversation:

Me: I want to teach him the word “sock”.
Aunt: What?
Me: Sock.
Aunt: You want him to learn the word f*ck?
Me: No, sock. SOCK. He already knows f*ck, obviously.

At any rate, I think it’s important that he knows the difference between his toys. Last night I tried SO hard. I kept showing him the sock, and saying the word “sock”, but he wasn’t getting it. But Ken pointed out that it was dinner time and he was super-distracted (Titus, not Ken), so he probably wasn’t paying attention to any of his toys. It just occurred to me now that you might be wondering WHY he has a sock for a toy. Is he a house elf from Harry Potter, you ask? No. It became his toy when his allergies got really bad and we had to tie it onto his paw with a pretty red ribbon to stop him from chewing it. He tore it off almost immediately, but then it became a beloved toy. He likes to carry it around. That makes it a toy. Don’t ask me—it’s dog logic. Plus, you can grab the end and play tug of war with him, which makes him ecstatically happy. So it’s a toy. And one day, he will know its name.

Friday: I have a conversation with a grocery store cashier and realize she is TOTALLY humouring me.

Me: I’m fine, thanks. How are you?
Me: No, it’s raining so hard right now, and I forgot an umbrella.
Me: Do you sell umbrellas here?
Me: I know. My husband’s at a soccer game in Toronto—I hope he doesn’t get soaked.
Me: I do. Here you are.
Me: Um…sure…one would be fine. (At this point, it dawns on me that she’s not actually as sincere as she seems. It could be because of the capital letters and exclamation marks.)

Afterwards, I remembered when I was that age and working at a pretty mundane job. The only way to get through the day sometimes was to become a little robotic. And that’s OK. She could have been really nasty or just plain bored or disinterested, I guess. As it was, for a few brief moments, I felt like she truly cared. Thanks, grocery store girl.

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