As Getting the Girl is dedicated to my three brothers, Trevor, Aaron and Scott, I thought perhaps I’d also dedicate the first post-publication blog to them, or at least to Jackson, Aaron and Scott’s dog and Trevor’s nephew.
A few months ago, my brother Scott and I took our dog Frank for a walk. I admit that Frank isn’t going to win any walking awards. He’s not terrible, but neither is he any sort of obedience champion. He pulls on the departure and lags on return. He stops for sniffs that can cause traffic jams for people walking behind him. But he’s better than he was when he was a young dog.
On this particular outing, I gave Scott the leash to hold. Frank kept up a steady pressure, as he was keen to get going. I could see a look of disapproval on my brother’s face.
“What?” I asked.
“He’s pulling,” said Scott. He didn’t sound impressed.
Just then Frank made a quick detour so he could sniff a rock and Scott had to walk quickly around him or trip over him.
“This would drive me crazy,” muttered my brother.
“Your dog doesn’t sniff on his walks?”
“Not like this,” said Scott.
I knew he and my brother Aaron had worked hard to rehabilitate their rescue dog. Jackson is a pitbull cross whose early life featured plenty of neglect and abuse. Aaron and Scott read all the books about training “bull dogs” which is what aficionados call pitbulls. They’d watched every episode of the the “Dog Whisperer” and “At the End of My Leash”. I didn’t remember Jackson as being particularly beautifully behaved, but maybe after all their hard work he’d really turned a corner from when they first got him and he specialized in eating seat belts and pieces of door.
“He’s not that bad,” I said, defending Frank’s honour. Of course, Frank has had every advantage. Not to mention every squeaky toy ever invented. He’d been to obedience classes and agility classes and we’d done all we could to make sure he was well-adjusted. Perhaps I could have worked a bit harder on his leash training.
Scott didn’t reply. He just continued to look vaguely insulted every time Frank veered off course.
I admit, my canine companion pride was rankled. How could our pampered dog be less well behaved than Aaron and Scott’s dog, a dog one trainer told them could never be socialized properly?
I was therefore keen to see this exquisite obedience in action. So when I went to visit my brothers a month or two later, I suggested that we take Jackson out for a walk to see if he was indeed better than Frank on the leash. In fact, I suggested we make a wager of it.
“Only if you want to lose money,” said Scott.
So Scott, my mom, Jackson and I pulled out of the driveway with Jackson in the lead. Pulled was the operative word. And it wasn’t just a little bit, like Frank.
“Don’t see much slack in that leash,” I told Scott.
“He’s just excited,” he said.
Then Jackson darted over to sniff a tree and I nearly fell over him.
“Hmmm,” I said. “Did you allow that pit stop?”
“He’s good when it counts,” said Scott.
We’d walked several blocks and were heading home when a small, yappy white dog flew out of its backyard to issue a challenge. Jackson’s reaction was instantaneous. He leapt at the dog. Scott tried to hold on, but it made no difference to the seventy pounds of muscle on the end of the leash. Next thing we knew, Scott was being dragged across the lawn on his face. I made a leap for Scott’s feet and Mother screamed. The little white dog beat a hasty retreat.
Jackson immediately gave up his pursuit and Scott picked himself up, brushed the grass stains off his jeans and we kept walking in silence for some minutes. Jackson’s fine red tail wagged proudly, as though he’d just accomplished his good deed for the day.
Once we were down the street a safe distance, the little white dog reemerged from its hiding place and ran into the road to bark defiantly after Jackson, who paid it no mind.
“See,” said Scott, finally. “He’s good when it counts.”
“A regular Obedience Champion,” I agreed.