What I learned from Cesar is that I have to show Lola that I'm the pack leader. One of the best ways to do this is taking her for walks and making her match her pace to mine. Before I tried it, the idea seemed laughable. When I tried to walk her in the past, she almost pulled my arm out of socket, and she even pulled me over a couple of times. But as I watched Cesar transform the most unruly dogs into docile followers, I started to believe there might be hope for even Lola.
"It's all about body language," I explained to Bill, even though he watches the show right alongside me. "We have to somehow commune with Lola, convey our intentions through touch and calming thoughts."
"Nnnhh," he replied.
"No, really," I persisted, determined to overcome his skepticism. "It's like the girl and her owl in that book I read recently. It took weeks, but she somehow convinced him to let her trim his talons. She just talked to him in a quiet voice and told him what she was going to do, and she focused on calm, soothing thoughts as she pictured what she wanted him to do."
"Yeah. So you're the Dog Whisperer now. Then why don't you tell Lola to stop running along the fence and destroying the hedges? Or better yet, tell her to stop barking at the wind."
"Okay," I said, heading for the back door. Lola raced up to meet me, resting her front paws on the dirty rug just inside the door and letting her long spotted tongue loll out. I knelt down to her level and gingerly rested a palm against the side of her head. "Now, Lola, we need you to stop barking so much. We hear you, and we appreciate it that you're trying to protect our house, but this is really too much. You don't need to bark at the birds. Or the motorcycles. Or the wind. Understand?"
Lola stared earnestly into my eyes and then lunged forward to plant a sloppy kiss on my chin.
"Eww!!" I wiped my chin forcefully and pressed my lips together to keep from joining in Bill's hearty laughter.
"So what's she saying?" he asked between snickers. "I'll tell you. She says, 'It's almost bedtime. When are you gonna feed me?'"
Undeterred, I took Lola for a walk a few days later. I breathed deeply, allowing my shoulders to sink back and down, willing the tension to drain from my neck. "Now, Lola, you're going to walk right beside me, okay? Right beside me. And you're not going to pull on this leash."
Lola surged forward, jerking my right arm violently. "Wait," I said firmly, tightening her choke collar and forcing her to stand next to me. She kept trying to move forward, but I calmly held my grip and refused to move until there was no tension on the leash. At last we moved on, only to stop again after two feet.
This went on for three sides of the block, and the muscles up my arm and shoulder were beginning to throb. Lola was surprisingly patient, if a little bemused, and so was I. As we walked, I kept my knee pressed to her left flank. "You're going to walk right beside me," I repeated over and over, "and you're not going to pull the leash."
After we rounded the last corner, she finally seemed to get it. She still pulled the leash a bit, but she walked right next to me. "Good dog!" I exclaimed as I removed her collar and fed her a Milkbone biscuit back at the house. I gave her a little pat on the head, and I swear she smiled at me.
I took her out a few more times over the next few weeks, and each time she caught on a little more quickly and put a little less pressure on the leash. When we walked sedately past the dreaded yard with all the barking dogs, I knew I really was becoming the pack leader. And just as Cesar had promised, we were starting to build a rapport. Even Bill had to admit that there might be something to this Dog Whisperer stuff.
Back to Reality
And then came yesterday morning. I was up on the computer, editing some audio for an e-Learning course I'm developing, when I heard Bill say something about "the dog." Though I couldn't hear his words, his tone alarmed me, and I yanked off my headphones. "The dog what?"
"I said, 'The dog just picked a squash.'"
I tore down the stairs. He was holding a six-inch, green striped squash with teeth marks all over it.
"You mean she jumped over the fence and stole a squash?" I asked incredulously.
"No, it was one of the ones growing on the outside of the fence."
"I didn't even see that one! Oh, man! That's a big one, too," I wailed.
Lola poked her head through the open door. "Bad dog!" I scolded. She padded inside and sat at my feet, leaving clumps of dog down in her path. "Bad, bad dog!" I repeated, but my ire was tempered by the laughter that threatened to bubble up to the surface. Lola was staring up at me with rapt admiration, her tail thumping audibly against the floor.
I could almost hear her saying, "Yep, I picked a squash! Isn't that great?" But probably she was really saying, "Oh boy, oh boy! The lady's talking to me!"
I guess I'm not the Dog Whisperer after all.