'The Dog' by Martin Day
When he was just a puppy, it had seemed to the dog that he had been able to be himself. He would roll, bark and scamper, and chase after balls. All the other dogs would sit around and talk. They’d watch him and say: “What a lovely little puppy. Look at him playing. He hasn’t a care in the world.” The puppy loved the attention. His heart raced, his tail wagged and his nose sniffed the air that was full of interesting things. But puppies don’t stay puppies for long, and cuteness soon passes. Before he knew it, and without realising, it seemed he was being trained. He did his business and it smelt OK; it smelt like his. But it seemed it was in the wrong place. There were harsh words, and a rough hand at the back of his neck, rubbing his nose into it: “Bad dog, bad dog!” He wasn't sure where he should go, but he soon learnt where he shouldn’t. And he learnt that the smell of his “bad dog” was a smell to be ashamed of. As time went on, it gradually became clear that he wasn’t allowed upstairs or on sofas. He wasn’t allowed to lick faces or feet. He wasn’t allowed to eat anything not in his bowl. He mustn’t drink from the toilet. And he must not jump the fence into nextdoor’s garden, even though he was an excellent jumper. It was hard for him, as these things were things he wanted to do; all of them.
What he loved most was going for walks. But he was always on a lead. His nose would pick up all sorts of smells and he would run ahead, but then the lead would pull and his collar would tighten and choke him. Even though this hurt, he would pull against the lead and strain towards the interesting smell. Then he would catch a scent under his feet and stop behind to investigate, but the lead would tighten again and he would get dragged forward as the walk continued. Every walk was like this, slow and laboured, and the smells that he smelt always seemed to be bad ones. He noticed that his tail didn’t do much wagging any more, and generally just hung between his legs. There must have been some kind words from his Trainer, but all the actions and words that stuck in his memory were scoldings and corrections.
Then came the day when his new Master came to pick him up. “He's pretty much house-trained,” he heard his Trainer say. And he saw his new Master get out a handful of banknotes, paying for what must have been ownership of him. Such things are not easily understood by a dog. But it did seem a lot. The new Master bent down, hugged the dog and then lifted him high off the ground and held him. The dog was delighted by the sudden attention and felt all puppyish again. This was wonderful. Things were looking better already. He quite forgot himself and licked the Master’s face. He suddenly felt guilty; he knew that a dog shouldn’t do such a thing. The Master didn’t seem to mind, but the dog still felt bad about it. Maybe he had got away with it this time. But he mustn’t let it happen again. He must try to be a good dog now.
Well, he went home with the new Master and didn’t live with the Trainer any more. Life was much better. The new Master was kind and the Dog liked being in the same room as him. Sometimes the Master would lean over to stroke the Dog. The Master’s hand felt gentle on his back. But the Dog remembered the Trainer’s hand on his neck when he’d had his nose rubbed in his own “bad dog”, and the Dog thought to himself: “I must be good. It’s even more important that I don’t make mistakes here.”
When they went out together for walks, the Dog would still run ahead or hang back but then be aware of his collar. He would feel bad and try to correct himself, always worrying that he would let the new Master down.
One day he thought he heard the Master calling him from the living room, so he bounded to the room to see what the Master wanted. His Master was smiling from the sofa and slapped on the cushion next to him. The Master looked so welcoming. It looked inviting on the sofa next to him, but the Dog knew that he wasn’t allowed on sofas, so he sat on the floor next to the sofa, on his own.
Although he knew he was living in a better home now, he found himself withdrawing to his basket more often. He would sit and stare at his lifeless tail and wonder: “Why am I not happy any more, like I was when I was a puppy? If only I could get my tail to wag again.” He would concentrate on his tail, trying to make it wag, but it wouldn’t. He would nudge it with his nose. It seemed like it was dead. “There's something very wrong with me,” he said.
Now when he went for walks with his Master, the Dog tried hard to resist the smells that had distracted him before, and he tried to stay at the Master’s heel. He would see other dogs with their masters and saw them straining painfully against their leashes, and thought how undisciplined they were. He shook his head: how much they still had to learn. At other times he would see a dog chasing after a ball or a stick in the distance. He would bark loudly to warn them: “Behave, behave, stop that. It’s really not the right behaviour for a grown dog. You're not a puppy now, you know!” He despaired of the other dogs. He felt that he himself might make quite a good sheepdog for these less disciplined mutts, as he felt he now had quite a good grasp of what it was to be a good dog.
The Dog was starting to feel a greater stability in his doggy existence. He was more disciplined on walks, although it took considerable concentration and focus. He was well behaved around the house, having developed a routine to help him to stick to good habits. He would eat his food from his bowl at the appointed times and, even though he would revisit and lick around the empty bowl at times during the day, he never bothered his Master for human food. He made a point of pushing the toilet door shut so that he was never tempted by the water in the toilet bowl. And he had specific times that he tried to keep to go outside to do his “bad dogs”. He had never had an accident in the new Master’s house, but he always feared that he would lose control and let himself down. Although the new Master had always been kind, he feared what the Master’s reaction would be if it should ever happen. The Dog became very committed to his routines and in doing so became less flexible. Although his behaviour seemed now to be under control, he found that the very ways in which he was making himself more acceptable actually meant he was investing more time in controlling his behaviour than he was with his Master. And the times when he would sit alone in his basket and gaze sadly at his lifeless tail became more frequent.
Then came the awful day. The Master got up early and left the house, locking the front door behind him. When the Dog got up, he tried to get outside to do his “bad dog” business, but found the back door hadn’t been opened. He was irritated that his routine had been disrupted but decided not to let it throw his whole day out, and skipped straight to his breakfast. By mid-morning he was aware of a great pressure building inside him. He went to the back door, even though he knew it was locked, and whimpered in discomfort. As he limped back through the dining room he was overcome and lost control. He felt awful and relieved all at the same time. He turned around to look at the “bad dog” mess he had made. He felt much better in his lower insides but his stomach turned and seemed to grip the whole of him in tension; a much worse feeling. He knew that the “bad dog” must be cleaned up before his Master’s return. He couldn’t conceive of the Master finding such an awful thing and of what the Master would think of him. So he thought of pushing the “bad dog” mound to somewhere less obvious. He started to push it with his nose, but this only smeared it across the wooden floor and made it smell worse. In panic he tried to wipe the smear up with his ear. It seemed to work, so he pushed the mound further and cleaned up the next smear with his other ear. Before he knew it, he had pushed the mound right around the room, cleaning after it with his fur, and it had all gone.
He was greatly relieved to have cleaned the mess off the floor but it had been at a great personal cost, because by now he was completely covered in “bad dog” himself. There was no way that the Master could see him like this. He would have to hide. So he went and hid in a gap between the washing machine and the wall and sat there miserable, dirty and ashamed, with only his shameful tail showing behind him.
When the Master came in, he called for the Dog. The Dog heard but he didn't move. He feared the Master's reaction, although discovery seemed inevitable. “What is that awful smell?” he heard the Master ask of the air. “It’s me,” thought the Dog,
... to be continued!
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© M Day 9-Nov-2006