Control Freak

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During the course of our marriage, the hubs has frequently accused me of being a control freak, and nowhere is that description more accurate than in my dealings with our dog, Munster. In the course of composing this article, I’ve given a great deal of thought to the subject of control,  and I’ve come to the conclusion that indeed, training your dog is all about control: you tell him what to do, and, ideally, he does what he’s told (note: the world would be a better place if this formula worked on husbands, too). But what, exactly, is the point of all that control? In the case of the hubs, I would, in a perfect world, be able to spend as much of his income as I please. In the case of Munster, it means the difference between a happy home, and sending a cat-killing dog back to the shelter.

Nowhere in my life have I felt more helpless than when Munster caught that stray cat before I could catch him. When I managed to separate the feline from his jaws, and saw the cat run up a tree, I assumed that the little fellow would be alright. When I found the corpse a week later, I was heartbroken. Nothing is more agonizing that not being able to save a life. But I found out the hard way that returning Munster to the shelter wasn’t any less agonizing.

As part of my bid to bring him home again, I started looking into ways to gain some control, and alleviate some of the helplessness I felt. It was a vague idea, and I didn’t know what to look for, let alone, what I wanted to accomplish. As with most things in my life, there was a cascading effect: a good-manners training class led to a canine daycare and socialization opportunity, which led to a trainer who worked with electronic collars, which led a group e-collar training class, all of which led to more control over my dog.

It wasn’t as if I wanted to control every twitch of his muscles. It wasn’t as if I knew exactly what I wanted to control, other than his attempts to catch and kill small animals. Perhaps I simply wanted to feel as though I had a modicum of authority: in the canine world, the Alpha is the one who commands respect, and makes the rules. And you can believe that when it comes to animal behavior, I have a lot of rules. I’d just never required dog rules before. Cats, yes. Horses, of course. But in all my years, rules for dogs never came into play, and I had no idea what sort of rules were needed until that poor cat was attacked. Then, things started to become very clear indeed. The hubs is uncomfortable with all this rule-making, though, and he resists being an enforcer.

“I want Munster to like me,” he’s stated more than once.

Scoffing, my reply is always the same: “I enforce the rules, and he likes me anyway!” But the hubs continues to resist, regardless.

I’ll grant you, there is difference between the relationship the hubs has with Munster, and the relationship that I have with Munster. The hubs and the dog have a rough-and-tumble thing, a couple of buddies who like to play and hang out, with as little structure as possible to their time together. They enjoy that time, but the hubs’s standing is nothing more than an equal of Munster’s, which goes a long way toward explaining why Munster repeatedly tries to mount the hubs but never me: Munster sees the hubs as someone he can occasionally dominate, someone he doesn’t have to listen to or behave with. That’s all well and good until trouble rears its head, as it will inevitably do.

One of the most vital responsibilities in our marriage is divvied up thusly: I’m in charge of the “what if?” department, while the hubs is in charge of ignoring the “what if?”’s. He’s simply no good at anticipating what might happen, while I seem to excel at it. And one of my “what if’s” was this: what if Munster spots another stray cat? The answer to which, in my mind, is: he will respect my authority and not chase it. Meanwhile, the hubs’s answer is: he probably won’t spot another stray cat. You can see why that thinking would make me want to stab him to death.

The thing is, you reach a point of exasperation in which you actually hope that the worst does happen, just so you can prove the pillock wrong. Naturally, that’s exactly what happened. Thankfully, I wasn’t there to witness it. The hubs summed it up this way:

“Munster took off after this cat, and I kept pushing the button [on the e-collar remote]but he wouldn’t listen. Then I couldn’t find him so I ran out into the road so I’d be able to stop him if he ran that way. I kept calling and calling, and finally, he came back.”

You can imagine the breadth and depth of my smirk as he told me that story.

And it took everything I had in me to refrain from asking, “And what have we learned from this, boys and girls?”

Sometimes, you have to let the hubs make the connection on his own, and I believe he did just that, because he’s been attending group training class with us more often, and he seems willing to push the remote dial up to numbers that actually get Munster’s attention: 18, say, rather than the 7 that’s too easy for the dog to ignore.

So. What have we learned from today’s column? Hopefully, you’ll understand, as I do now, that some control over your dog is necessary. But tempering your Alpha-ness with regular amounts of play, and a daily portion of love and affection is also important. Munster loves me because I’m a benevolent Alpha. That is to say, for all the minutes of daily training that we do, he gets twice as much time to run freely through the meadow, weeing on as many things as he likes, and being rewarded by me for doing a brilliant job at what he does best: being a good, happy dog.

Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

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