FRIEND and neighbor Mary tells us she took her new puppy to obedience school, and the man asked her not to bring him again. I haven't seen the mutt, but I think there's a dog I could like. Give him six weeks, I say, and he'll outsmart any dog that is graduated. He's going to make a fine pet and a close pal for many good years to come. Mary said she felt let down when the man said that, but on the way home from his first exposure to obedience the pup climbed onto her shoulder and smooched behind her ear until she had to draw the automobile off the road, set the brakes, and subdue him with a blanket over his head. So you've already got a dog that knows how to manage Mary -- what need to send him to school?
Of all the farm dogs I supported over the years, only one of them was privileged with formal schooling. All our dogs were obedient -- farm dogs have to be. They escorted cows and sheep, chased raccoons from the henyard, worried woodchucks in the gardens, barked at tramps, and no doubt would have made a touse if the barn caught fire. Ludwig was the only one who ever permitted his erudition to interfere with his intelligence. Such as the time he wouldn't eat, which was because he went to obedience school.
We had been de-dogged for a month or so, and then the availability of Ludwig was brought to our attention by somebody who didn't like us. We heard that a man over in Skunk's Misery Gore had some pups. Just pups. We never insisted on class -- the only dog we ever had with papers was a bluetick, and I made his papers up one evening to prove he was descended from Sirius. Ludwig's owner said the mother was ``probably setter,'' and the sire was local, but anonymous. That sounded good enough for our woodchucks, and my wife, who had gone to look into Ludwig, asked the man how much?
The man hesitated and cocked his head to one side as if weighing several possibilities. He tilted his hat and scratched behind one ear with a finger. ``Well,'' he said, ``I don't want to mention any figure that would scare you away, but if you'll take him, I'll pay you a dollar.'' In all truth, I must say now that Ludwig proved to be worth much more than that, but my wife didn't haggle, and Ludwig came to live with us. And since I wanted nothing whatever to do with Ludwig, he became my wife's dog. It was her whim to enter him in an obedience school, and every Tuesday evening they would depart right after supper to leave me with the dishes. It was good to get Ludwig out of the house.
This went on for quite some time, and weekly reports were that Ludwig was a smart student but was the only pooch in the seminar without distinguished parentage and social prominence. Then my wife went to visit her folks and I stayed home with Ludwig. ``Don't forget to feed Ludwig,'' she said, and she was gone for five days.
All proper farm dogs get fed once a day, so the next morning as I was making my breakfast I fixed a dish of goodies for Ludwig, and while I was doing it he showed how well his manners had been inculcated. He sat on his haunches, seeping a bit at the jowls, but making no move to gorm around the dish. ``Good dog,'' I said. I stirred in a bit of steak gravy from last night, and he held his charge. ``Good ol' Ludwig!'' I said. Then, with his dish of food ready, I said, ``All right, now you can eat.''
At that Ludwig howled like the banshee with his tail caught in the wringer and just about tore the house down as he raced from room to room. He wouldn't eat. He just roared around and knocked down furniture. ``Lot of good school did you!'' I yelled above his hubbub, and I said more than that as five days went by and I couldn't get him to touch his food.
When she came home I said, ``Your dog won't eat.''
She said, ``Did you shake hands with him?''
She'd taught him not to eat until she shook hands with him. So I went and shook hands with Ludwig, and he ate. Which shows what culture can do for a dog. The night he was graduated, all the owners paraded their dogs. Each dog heeled, and in turn responded to commands. Then some naughty boys hove a pussycat in the window, and when the din subsided the cat was up on the piano and all the dogs save Ludwig were around the piano barking at the cat. The judges, naturally, had to give Ludwig summa cum laude, because he never broke his heel in the slightest. He was always scairt of cats.