By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Recently we have been putting Dash the Wonder Dog through his paces at obedience school. This past weekend he graduated from the Intermediate level and next week begins a six-week journey to become a Canine Good Citizen. Actually, the training is more for me. I am learning that consistency and discipline are not exactly my strong suits. More on that later.
Today I want to write about the brilliant idea I had during Dash’s training – Obedience School for People! Don’t laugh – think about how much less annoying life would be if everybody had to attain their Good Citizen certificate. One of the major complaints we hear, either in person or on TV, is how rude and inconsiderate people are these days. “Honkers” in traffic, people with full carts in the Express Check-out line, someone in front of you at Starbucks ordering Cappacinos for their entire office. But imagine a world where people were actually trained as well as our dogs! To prove my point, here are some examples:
1. Fetch – with canines the dogs are taught to go get something that you’ve thrown and bring it right back to you. Oh, if only this had applied to some of my friends over the years. I have loaned – and not gotten back – clothing, utensils, garden equipment and various other household items. As an example, a friend “borrowed” my book on figure skating written by the great sportswriter Christine Brennan. That was in 1997. For the first year I hinted to her that I wanted to refresh my memory about some skaters and would sure like to re-read the book. Nothing. Several other hints were also met with inaction. Finally, when we were moving out of state and I was pretty sure that I would never see her again I came right out and reminded her that the book was about two years overdue at my personal lending library. Still…to this day the book resides on her bookshelf, permanently “borrowed” from me. But – and here’s where the brilliance of my plan comes in – if my friend had been through training I could have said “fetch” and my book would have been promptly returned.
2. Wait – dogs are not generally long on patience or attention spans. Sort of like husbands. So the “wait” command teaches them to pause before entering or exiting a room or to stop doing whatever they’re doing (like bugging you to throw the ball for the 1,000th time). I was thinking about the “wait” training trick when I was standing outside Costco the other morning. I was there about five minutes before they opened and joined a crowd of about 20 people. It was not particularly cold – it’s Scottsdale for Heaven’s sake – nor was it the morning before a holiday. In other words, there should have been no overriding sense of urgency. But at 9:03 when the big steel door still had not opened, not one but two (!) people called the store demanding that they open up. And in rather harsh terms, I might add. Now I have to admit, I love Costco. I own stock in the company, I think they treat their employees well, and best of all, if you time it just right you can get a free meal by swerving through the aisles picking up all the free samples. So when people are so impatient and rude that they are yelling at the nice Costco people for being THREE MINUTES late, I think that is a call to action. If ever there was a need for people to heed the “wait” command, it is apparently at the Scottsdale Costco.
3. Heel – this is actually a technical term for when the dog is facing forward with its shoulder at your calf. It is called their “positional space”. Boy oh boy, based solely on my observations, “heel” is a concept where we humans fall woefully short. We’ve all experienced the personal space invasion – the drunk at the cocktail party who stands so close that you could critique their dental work, the oaf at the movies who hogs the armrest, or the dunderhead at the Little League game who has to sit thisclose to you on the bleachers when three rows stand empty in front of you. The worst violators seem to be on airplanes. There are the Droolers, the Seat Tilters who leave you no leg room, and of course, the Sleepers. I once had the misfortune to be in the window seat next to a rather large man who not only spread out all over the empty middle seat, but apparently suffered from narcolepsy. Despite several attempts to wake him, he slumbered on. My gyrations to crawl over him to get to the restroom would make a call girl blush. If everyone was required by the rules set down in my Good Citizen requirements we could confidently enter the public square and – this is critical – airplanes, knowing that everyone would stay in their own darn “positional space”.
I’m sure there are other examples of how we might “train” people I’d love to hear your ideas. In the mean time, I’m sticking with the dogs. I think my success rate will be better.