A Dog Training Lesson on the 6-Parnassus (7 December 2011)

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Good Evening:

So on the same day I walked down the middle of Haight Street at 5:18 a.m., I returned from the film shoot in Fremont where I played the alcoholic ex-bounty hunter from Oklahoma who doesn’t realize he’s found a $100,000 lottery ticket in the bottom of a urinal in a crummy Texas bar (I know, I know, typecast again), and eventually found myself in the back of the 6-Parnassus sitting across from a young man in his early twenties, either a street person or a college student or a bike messenger or a Starbucks barista, I couldn’t tell which, who was trying to keep his dog (and it was definitely not another Timber Wolf; I met one of those underground on the N-Judah) under control and failing in his efforts.

The dog was a handsome devil of a puppy, of course, and big, too: black with a white chest, looked like a cross between a pit bull and a black Labrador Retriever, and definitely displayed the combined personality of both–the aggressiveness of the pit bull, the extremely hard-core people loving nature of the Lab. She looked less than 6 months old and looked over 30 pounds. The pit bull/Labrador is a hybrid worth pursuing, if you like large, frisky dogs who love playing with humans.

Such aggressive friendliness can prove a little counterproductive on the bus, though; the kid was worried that his large puppy might get him kicked off the bus by the driver. So every time the pup tried to introduce herself to yet another “best new human friend in the whole wide world,” which included every single human on the bus, the young man would pull the dog back to himself (no choke collar, fortunately), and hold his puppy’s snout shut and say “Don’t do that.” Then he would let go of the snout. And then the puppy would whine as loudly as it could because she couldn’t play with her “best new human friends in the whole wide world,” sounding incredibly like a bird when she cried. Then his human owner would hold her snout and say “Stop whining.” Then he would let go of the snout. Then the cycle repeated itself.

I should stress that at no point was the human violent to the dog; even when he held the dog’s mouth shut, he was still gentle. But after about three or four cycles, I decided to intervene.

“Hey, can I show you something?”

“What?”

“I know a trick to get your dog to be quiet.”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll show you.”

“What’re you gonna do?”

“Let her go.”

He let go of her, and I beckoned the dog over to me. She bounced over to me faster than immediately, as I know you already guessed. I scratched her ears, rubbed her belly, petted her sides, scratched at the base of her tail, all of which delighted her immensely, as I know you already knew. A nearby young man who also looked like either a street person or a college student or a bike messenger or a Starbucks barista, I couldn’t tell which, said, “Hey, I want some of that,” and joined in the petting, and you already know how much the puppy loved that. Then a 50-ish white collar guy who looked like he had had a rough day said, “I need some of that,” and he took over the ear scratching so I could focus on rubbing her chest, and you already know how much the pit bull/Labrador love child loved that. She wagged her tail furiously (ever notice how a black Lab’s tail can hit pretty hard? You know, the friendlier the Lab, the more painful the tail?), shook all over, and indulged each pet human in turn with her temporary undying fleeting devotion.

I said to her human, “Notice that?”

“Notice what?”

“She stopped making noises.”

You should have seen his jaw drop.

All three of the pit bull/Black Lab’s best new human friend in the whole wide world disembarked soon after. I was the last to leave, but before I left, I looked over my right shoulder toward the back of the bus and the boy and his dog. He had lifted her up onto his lap, holding her with one arm and scratching her ear with his free hand.

She wasn’t making any noise.

A Friend of Man’s Best Friend, I Remain, Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

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