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She's even growling to get her dog to stop biting

October 18, 1998

 

Terry TalbertI have a friend who is learning to growl at her dog.

It's a training method she gleaned from a book called "People, Pooches and Problems."

She's hoping it will turn Charlie, who is currently her worst enemy, into her best friend.

It's not that Charlie means to be bad. He's just a love-bitten free spirit who happens to enjoy gnawing on the objects of his adoration. They include my friend, her granddaughter Raven and assorted relatives and acquaintances.

My friend and her family got Charlie from the pound a month ago during a trying time in their lives. The tall-standing, big-pawed sleek black Lab immediately became...a trying time in their lives.

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Unfortunately, Charlie never grew up. He is two years old, going on six months.

He has a large head that flops awkwardly on his neck, and his ample jaws are imbedded with a formidable set of bright white teeth.

You know how kids act when they're cutting teeth - when they grab your finger and pull it into their mouths and chew it until it's hard to recognize anymore?

Charlie does that, only it's usually to a larger body part. Usually it's an arm or a leg. Sometimes it's even a thigh.

That's one of his greatest problems. If Charlie was toothless, he wouldn't be in trouble all the time the way he is now. What he doesn't bite, he eats. Sometimes he eats what he bites. For that matter, sometimes he swallows things whole. Usually it isn't a body part. That is good.

Anyway, my friend is learning to growl at Charlie.

"Do you mind if I ask why?" I said.

"I'm a placator, which makes me his litter mate," she said. "It puts us on equal terms."

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call it equal, since his teeth are about twice as long as yours, and a lot more pointed," I said.

She ignored that.

"He thinks I'm his litter mate and he manipulates me with his eyes and the way he turns his head, and with his nuzzling," she said. "He interprets my talking to him as whining, which is how litter mates communicate. What I have to do is change the relationship. I have to stop screaming at him when he does something wrong. He doesn't hear me when I scream. According to this book I have to stop talking to him altogether for two weeks except to reprimand him, and when I reprimand him I must growl the word. This is to break the pattern we've established."

Then she told me, as an aside, what Charlie had eaten that morning in the 45 minutes she and her husband were away in town.

"When we came home he was eating potatoes he got out of the cupboard," she said.

"How many did he eat?" I asked.

"I think he only ate one or two, but he had them out all over the floor," she said.

My friend said Charlie also removed from a countertop and consumed a green herbal pill, a beige pill and another pill of undisclosed color, all of which she had forgotten to take that morning.

"All I know is he's going to be undepressed and hyper," she said. "That's all I need."

"Anything else?" I asked.

"Let's see, what else...oh! I don't know how he did it, but he took the plastic off a can of peanuts, and ate them."

"He ate the can and the lid?" I asked in astonishment.

"No, he ate the peanuts. Come to think of it, though, I can't find the lid," she said.

"Bet he ate it," I offered.

She ignored me.

"Oh, another thing he ate was one entire pound of dog treats I bought to work with him. I was going to reward him with the treats," she said.

"Not now, you aren't," I said.

I sure hope the growling technique works, because our phone conversations lately have sounded like this:

"Excuse me, Terry...STOP IT NOW!!! @#$%^&*, CHARLIE, I SAID STOP IT. GO EAT YOUR CHEW STICK INSTEAD!!! Now, what were you saying? I'm sorry, but this dog is driving me stark raving mad and I'm going to kill him if he doesn't just stop.

"LAY DOWN. I SAID LAY DOWN. What were we talking about? Look, can I call you back? He's gnawing on my calf. CHARLIE, I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU DON'T STOP I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!!! DON'T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT. I MEAN IT!!! OUCH!!!"

Moan.

"I'M HANGING UP NOW!"

"You're yelling. Are you talking to me, or Charlie?" I asked.

Click.

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