Bugsy is still studying for his degree of doggedness

There's little doubt which of our two dogs the police are likely to be more interested in. I'm not suggesting they are criminals (except, of course, to the degree that all domestic dogs base their entire operation vis-à-vis the human race on robbery without violence).

No, I am recalling a TV documentary we watched awhile back about dogs being trained for police work. I hadn't realized this, but some dogs - even when mere pups - show that they are just not cut out for serious careers.

Incidentally, I was fascinated that the handlers - these large, rugby-international-built coppers of the Canine Branch - become counter-tenors while training their dogs. They consistently speak to them falsetto. The dogs apparently respond better (and keep their derision to themselves).

Anyway, putting a bunch of new puppies through their paces on camera, the handlers soon discovered which ones had potential. The ones without potential were the ones that let go.

Our own home-brewed characters are not given your actual live Mafiosi or Great Train Robbers to practice on. They use what we call "the ropy things." You can get them at pet stores. They are multicolored and knotted at each end.

We have two of these hefty, twisted grabbing-pulling things because, on the latter-day arrival of Dog No. 2 in our household, Dog No. 1 rudely refused to share her ropy thing with him. So we bought him his own. And Dog No. 1 then wanted them both.

A year later, they still haven't learned to play together, one toy between them, without an immediate descent into dog-fight mode.

So there are two ropy things. And if one dog wants a session with one of them, the other has to have a session, too, which reveals unto me quite conclusively why dog owners need two arms.

There we have it. Muffy (No. 1) decides it's time to do a rope trick. She nudges one of the ropy things across the floor for a while, finally locking her teeth around it. She then approaches Useful Human with it, a hard glint in her eye and a sturdy swagger in her step.

The moment I take hold of one of the knotted ends and pull, she launches into a grimly satisfied growling sound that would intimidate the stoutest heart. I happen, however, to have inside information; I know this vocal ferocity is fake thunder. Mere play noise. No one here has taught her this technique, but it seems that the instinctive soundtrack somehow helps her concentration.

Bugsy (No. 2) is instantly alerted. He rushes over, wagging. This hairy sheepdog manqué does not just wag his tail. He wags his entire body. If his ropy thing is not nearby, he does his best to get in the way. After a while, he can be persuaded, generally, to go and find his own ropy thing, and then my work begins in earnest.

Muffy is master (or rather, mistress) of the art. But The Bugs is still learning. Either that, or he simply plays by his own rules. At any rate, he doesn't hold on strongly. He seems to want to.

But sooner, rather than later, out of his mouth it slips, and his part of the tug-of-war becomes a throw-and-fetch routine instead. If his ropy thing were a burglar, the intended prisoner would be out the window, over the hills, and far away.

Meanwhile, Dog No. 1 has been lifted off her feet six times and circled the earth in midair seven - has gone, indeed, into orbit - yet her jaw is still clamped unrelentingly in place. She and her ropy thing might as well be one creature.

She never lets go.

So if the police come to the door one morning, looking to press-gang recruits in their drive against crime, we will need to hide Muffy under the bed. Not Bugsy. They will take one look at him - wagging all over himself - and know he's a hopeless proposition.

Although I must say, on his behalf, that even if he is useless at hanging onto his ropy thing, his hanging-on sound effects are coming along by leaps and bounds. You'd think - by his ferocious roaring - that he was a whole jungle of lions.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.