How Grampie taught new dogs new tricks

When I was small, my grandfather often took me on his knee to coach me in morality and better things and to behave at the vestry sociables. I thought he did well and I turned out fine. He was also an able hand at training a dog. He said if you went at it right, any mutt you tackled was honored at friendly attention and glad to be obedient, and you didn't need to whack him and speak cross. He said always to start with a dog's dish.

He'd put a new metal bowl down for a puppy, and then would say "dish-dish-dish-dish" until the dog knew what it was. Then he'd stick it in the dog's mouth and say, "Nice doggie, Poutrakane!," or Malthusia, or Gorgonzola, or whatever you have selected for a name. Then he'd teach him to bring the dish and drop it at his feet. Nothing to it. He'd put a cookie in the dish, and after the puppy ate it he'd be ready to be trained in all directions in a willing manner.

Grampie said when he was younger he had a dog, Rensaeleroveenie, that would bring his dish up into the back field when Grandfather was hoeing corn there, almost a mile from the house. It got so Grampie had to keep some cookies in his pocket when he went to hoe corn. He said one evening when they quit work, both he and the dog forgot to bring the dish, and the dog had to go back and fetch it before he got any supper. You see, dish training teaches a dog not to eat from any dish but his own.

There used to be a gentleman who lived over in the Borough, in the next town, that my grandfather didn't like. I always supposed he trimmed my grandfather in a cow trade or some other social confrontation. Anyway, this man was named Johnson, and the next time my grandfather broke in a puppy he named it Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson, the dog, was a cross between a Lithuanian Retriever and the West Side of Township 16, and he was a slob. He looked more like something else than a dog, but he had a sharp and carrying voice so his bark would start barn shingles as far away as Newington Gore, downstate. In general, his entire purpose was to insult the real Mr. Johnson, who had to pass Grandfather's farm on the way to town.

It is hard for me to believe my beloved grandsire could so detest the real Mr. Johnson. But he trained his dog, Mr. Johnson, to bark wherever the real Mr. Johnson came by, both ways. He also taught Mr. Johnson not to bark at anybody else. Grandfather always said the first thing about training a dog was to know more than the dog.

So every time Mr. Johnson came up or down our road, on foot or by buggy, Mr. Johnson would set up his barking, and everybody in 15 miles knew that Mr. Johnson was passing our place and Mr. Johnson was barking at him. Fact is, one time Leslie Grover asked my grandfather, "What makes your dog go into a touse at Fernley Johnson? He don't bark none at anybody else!" My grandfather said, "I don't rightly know," which was a most unworthy untruth.

However, every time Mr. Johnson barked like that, my grandfather would cup his hands to his mouth and shout, "Mr. Johnson, Mr. Johnson! Hush your cheap yawp and come here! Come here, Mr. Johnson, you cheap, stupid excuse, you! Come here, Mr. Johnson, come here!" The real Mr. Johnson was obliged to swallow his indignation at this and pass in silence, as he and my grandfather "didn't speak." After these ceremonies had been completed each time, Grampie would pat Mr. Johnson in gratitude, rub his ears, and say, "Fetch your dish!"

In this way, Mr. Johnson was rewarded for barking at Mr. Johnson, and although he was a smart dog (but not so smart as Grampie), at times he must've wondered what all his barking was about.

There was one dog, later, that Grampie trained to guard the hen pen against a plague of raccoons. Grampie was getting older, and couldn't patrol as he used to, so he got this part-beagle, and in minutes had him dish-trained and ready for work. The raccoon is not just an ordinary varmint around a farmyard, but is crafty and can open doors and windows and get in when other beasties stay locked out.

So Grampie trained this forlorn little mutt to sleep in the henhouse and be on guard, and for years he had no trouble with raccoons, which eat hen grain, hens, eggs, and everything else. He called this well-mannered guardian Perish-the-Thought, Esq.

IT was an ideal relationship until Perish (for short) began to think he was a hen. Sometimes a rooster. He taught himself to crow, and would respond every morning to the sunrise.

Then he took to getting up in a hen's nest, and after a time would crawl out and cackle, announcing a presumptive egg. Several times the agitated flock made outcry when Perish would get his front legs stuck and couldn't get out of the nest. My grandfather had to come running from whatever he was doing and release poor Perish, and then he would make believe pick up the dog's egg and take it to the egg room in a basket.

One spring Perish became broody and stayed on the nest 21 days, bringing off a handsome clutch of imaginary baby chicks. (They yipped rather than peeped and were a nuisance.) But there was no trouble about raccoons.

All I wanted to say is that you can train a dog to do about anything if you use the dish method and kindness, so long as you know more than the dog.

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