Life lessons come in strange forms. The Life Lesson Trifecta hit me in the summer of 2014. One hot Kingston afternoon, my dog nearly managed to have me eating out of the palm of his hand – or, rather, from the bottom of his dish.
As a first-time dog owner, I had a lot to learn about training a 65-pound, sweet, high-energy labradoodle puppy. His weight, energy and determination turned many of our walks into complex, dynamic obstacle courses. A brisk winter walk became a dog-propelled tobogganing adventure, a jog by the lake turned into a puddle jump and log roll, a stroll through the park became a series of red rover games with unsuspecting strangers. Max passed puppy school three times, only to school me outside of class: he knew what to do – and he knew he didn’t have to do it. I had run out of options until I came upon the website for the Dog Whisperer of Kingston, Ontario. “Just $100. GUARANTEED SATISFACTION. UNLIMITED FREE FOLLOW-UPS, if Needed.” This Dog Whisperer scooped me: mind, hopes and wallet.
The Dog Whisperer’s entrance was as grand as his promises. He rolled-up like a gangster and parked out front in his decked-out station wagon that read “Ain’t Misbehavin” in big, bold font. My plans for the afternoon were now public knowledge. The 5’10, 110-pound middle-aged man sauntered to my door, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Max, sensing the upcoming snafu, eagerly ran to meet the knock. Using my extremely graceful one-legged, two-armed, dog restraining, double door pulling manoeuvre, I opened my door for the Dog Whisperer.
“STOP! He announced. We will do it AGAIN! This time – I am the King!”
His extremely strange announcement worked. Max and I both stopped mid-door routine. Max searched my eyes to find out who in Dog’s name I had invited into the house. This was going to be a ride.
The next thing I knew, the Dog Whisperer was taking us out for a walk in the streets. I was on full display before my neighbours, friends, and the general public. He explained that, if I want to be king, I need to act like the king. His voice inflated as we walked out the door: “THIS IS MY HOUSE!” he shouted. He pointed downward, and proclaimed, “THIS IS MY SIDEWALK!” He pointed at my elderly neighbour’s Toyota: “THIS IS MY CAR.” A young family with a child and a baby walked by, and he yelled “THIS IS MY BABY!” Needless to say, the family made a sharp left turn off of my street.
I was about to suggest that we retreat inside when I heard a low groan from a nearby dog. The Dog Whisperer was instantly intrigued. To my dismay, a very pregnant woman sat with her children, an elderly woman, and a medium sized boxer in a muzzle only 20 yards away. Oh, Good Lord. Max and I were ready to bail, when the Dog Whisperer pulled on Max’s leash. As expected, the Dog Whisperer had sniffed-out a learning opportunity. We walked over to the area he had already designated HIS park. The pregnant woman asked us to just walk away. The Dog Whisperer was not having any of it. “I AM THE DOG WHISPERER,” he announced. The woman started to plead, “Turn around, sir. Don’t come closer”. “YOU NEEDN’T HAVE ANY FEAR” he proclaimed, pulling Max with him. The boxer’s groan turned into a growl. The pregnant lady stood up and loudly proclaimed right back: “MISTER, I AM 8 MONTHS PREGNANT WITH AN ANGRY DOG AND AN OLD MOTHER. YOU NEED TO BACK UP!!” The Dog Whisperer had missed the memo: She was King. This was HER park.
The lesson continued for another hour and a half. I was poked and jabbed while the Dog Whisperer demonstrated on me how he would physically get Max’s attention. We returned to my home where he and Max chased each other in laps through my hallway, past my glass dining room table and over my furniture. The piece de resistance, however, he kept for last. “I need crackers!” He implored. I told him I was gluten-free. We began a bizarre negotiation about crunchy food I may or may not have in my cupboard. We eventually settled on raisins. The Dog Whisperer had a final exercise for me.
At this point, I realized I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I watched as the tall middle-aged man in my kitchen grabbed Max’s full dish of dog food and raisins, and sunk to his hands and knees. I gasped as he stretched his head forward to eat the raisins out of Max’s bowl of dog food. The Dog Whisperer’s food concentration was broken only to give an occasional growl to Max and I. Max again looked up at me, as if to ask if I was crazy enough to join this guy on the ground. I was not.
The Dog Whisperer had been in my life for two hours. While Max still could not be walked steadily on his leash, I learned three important lessons:
- Nobody – not I, not Max, not the Dog Whisperer – nobody is the king of the world. You can only ever be the king of you.
- Read guarantees carefully – free services are only worth what you would be willing to pay for them in the first place.
- No level of dog obedience is worth eating dog food for: Max knew this beforehand. I needed to see it with my own eyes.