Patti Soldavini

Frankenprong

In Uncategorized on 01/07/2011 at 7:47 pm

"What now?"

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past six months, it’s that most people think their dogs are well-behaved. Even as they jam their snout into your netherbits trying to ferret out a toy. Guess what? You’re not supposed to have to give a dog a command 42 times before it stops trying to mount the defenseless 15-month old teeter-tottering through the kitchen wearing nothing but a soiled diaper and a grin covered in peanut butter. Yes, the baby smells THAT good to the dog. A walking, cooing aphrodisiac.

Anyway, dog training takes an unfathomable level of patience and the ability to endure hours of mindless repetition without wanting to cry. “SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY…” Sometimes, waiting for the light bulb to go off in the dog’s head is like waiting for Godot.  (Which by odd coincidence includes the word ‘dog.’) This is when the dog recognizes that we humans are woefully inept at communicating…especially in dog. I think they are actually jerking our chains then. Thankfully, Olive’s disposition makes her very eager to please. She will stand on her head and recite Desiderata just to make me happy. Other times, she puts on a William Wegman mask and tells me to stand on a chair.

Anyway, when Olive and I first started obedience school, she wore a regular, run-of-the-mill, overpriced dog collar. Big mistake. As I would soon learn, this was like putting a wet noodle around her neck. She had not one iota of respect for it. My independent spirited, crazed scent hound kept her nose to the mat, mentally categorizing and reclassifying every odor she encountered, occasionally stopping to lick some sort of forensic residue. The only time she wasn’t doing this was when she was distracted by the molecular activity around us. The dog is a biologic motion sensor. If the tiniest thread in the fabric of the universe shifts imperceptibly, Olive goes on high alert.

It was impossible to walk her. The collar was simply an accessory. It was like walking a 40-pound jackrabbit, zigzagging all over the place, leaving scorch marks in the earth she traversed. At this time, it would have been easier to train her to plow crop circles. I quickly developed “Olive Elbow,” from overextending it repeatedly. The leash burn on the underside of my arm was getting worse. My shoulder was dangling out of its socket. Olive was learning many, many foul words during this time. “$%#@!*&^%&*#@$! My God, am I ever going to enjoy walking this dog?”

At my wit’s end, I consulted with Olive’s trainer. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to train Olive without using the prong collar?” If you’re not familiar with the prong collar, it’s the one many dog owners (usually those who own dogs no larger than a Fabergé egg) wince at when they first see it. Actually, I winced too. It resembles a medieval torture device. A series of interlocked angry chrome pincers. I couldn’t imagine stringing this around Olive’s dainty neck. Oddly enough, it reminded me of going to the dentist, where they try to shove equipment the size of a 1962 Buick through your piehole. Nonplussed, the trainer responded: “Yes. But it will take a VERY, VERY, VERY VERY, VERY LONG TIME.” The perfect answer to give an impatient personality like myself.

“Welcome to Frankenprong, Olive.”

The much maligned and misunderstood prong collar should be sold, not as a utilitarian pet product but as a device that balances the relationship between dog and human. It works. Olive respects it’s ability to set limits. And if you wrap it around your arm, you’ll see that it’s no big deal (assuming you bought the quality one with rounded prongs). What I couldn’t get past though was watching Olive shrink 4 sizes before my eyes when the trainer popped the leash connected to Olive’s bright new prong collar. I think my sensitive, short-haired pooch yelped more from surprise (the party’s over) than anything else. Still, I said, “Screw that. I’m not making my dog feel small.” Off came the Frankenprong. For now anyway.

Four weeks later, ready to pull a Sylvia Plath, I attempted to reintroduce Olive to the Frankenprong. I gently placed it around her neck, softly cooing to her like the crap-stained baby from paragraph one. She remained unusually calm while cocking her head every so slightly as if to let me know that I’d been had.  I swear, she may have even winked at me.

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