Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who's Training Whom?

One of the many gifts Coltrane has given me is he makes the apartment seem huge. By New York standards this place is pretty spacious; there are two bedrooms, a tiny office (what was probably originally the maid’s room), an eat-in kitchen, and a good-sized, albeit oddly shaped living room. The nine foot ceilings and ample light (we’re on the top floor, so even the courtyard windows get a decent amount) also give a sense of spaciousness. I can’t complain. Well, of course I could, you must know me better than that by now, but I won’t. It’s a good amount of room.

As I said, however, Coltrane makes it seem even bigger. Mainly this results whenever he’s running. If he’s back in Tommy’s room -as far as one can get from the front door- when I come home, there will be the bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucket bucketa bucketa sound of his paws on the wood floor, which of course ends in the bouncing, springing, ear-flapping dance of joy at my triumphant return. Sometimes if he’s really excited, he has to run down the hall again, then come racing back to me. Occasionally he gets SO excited that he immediately runs in the opposite direction of the door, then remembers why he was so excited, and comes racing back to see me. Walking in to the sight of him tearing hell-bent for leather in the other direction cracks me up. I always want to greet him the minute I get in, but when I’m laden down with bags it can take a little while to walk down the hall to the kitchen, where I can put things down, since he’ll be dancing and hopping, getting underfoot, trying to trip me so he can lick my face... it’s a production. It's much easier when I'm empty handed, and can crouch to say hi right away.

This is the best, but not the only example of his expansion skills. When I’m sitting at the dining table in my favorite spot, I can see every door and window in the room, with the one to the hallway directly across from me. The hallway runs the long side of the L of the apartment, so it's the longest straight line one can walk in the apartment. At one end is the fire-escape window in my bedroom, at the other end is the front door. Sometimes when I’m sitting there, Coltrane, who had been sleeping in my room (see above) will suddenly have an urgent appointment at the front door. Then the sounds starts with the KaCHUNG of him jumping off my bed followed by bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa bucketa. The loudest bucketas are him passing the kitchen doorway, and just that snapshot of him leaping by will kill me, so full of vigor, purpose and enthusiasm it is.

I’m less enamored of his running when it’s in response to the door buzzer, or the door bell, because that will of course involve a barrage of barks to let everyone for a three block radius know that our take-out delivery has arrived. I think I may be more sensitive than most to certain noises and the door buzzer (for the front door of the building) and Coltrane’s bark both tend to startle me and hurt my ears. The door bell for our apartment isn’t so bad, but it’s rare that anyone who uses it is someone I was expecting or want to talk to, so I’ve developed a strong antipathy for it as well. The combination, therefore of head-splitting barking with either of these sounds does not let me be my best. I finally realized that if I pick him up, the dog will shut up, if only because he’s not entirely sure what I’m going to do to him. Now that I think about it, his barking tends to make the place sound smaller, since it’s almost as ear-splitting for me even when we’re at opposite ends of the L (office and living room couch), or maybe I’m just conditioned (dare I say, a Pavlovian response) to dislike the sound so much that it bugs me even when he’s not directly under my feet, causing me to have to dig my fingernails out of the nine foot ceiling.

Last night Tommy announced a the implementation of a new procedure to stop Coltrane from his obsessive wall licking. A few days ago Tommy really looked at the hallway wall and realized C was actually bubbling and removing paint. I don’t think this is the sturdiest paint, but even so, that’s some serious erosion going on and it can't be good for him. Soon after they moved in, Tommy suggested we use the aversion technique of spraying C with water whenever he did it, but T was so haphazard in observing it himself, that I started feeling like an asshole being the only one doing it. It was especially weird when C would be licking away vigorously outside the open bathroom door while Tommy shaved (water, mirrored cupboard doors opening, light bouncing all over the place), five minutes would pass and Tommy wouldn’t respond. He admitted last night that he often barely notices, it’s become such a part of his life. The paint thing was something of a wake-up call, I guess. Anyway, the new technique involves telling Coltrane to stop the licking, and if he does, giving him a treat. I am a bit dubious of this approach for two reasons. One: when it’s time for Coltrane to go outside, if he’s not all that into it (it's raining, or too cold or something), he’ll go hide, or simply fail to respond. Tommy therefore will rattle the treats jar lid, and this naturally brings the dog running. (I like this approach better than the earlier one, which was to ring the front door bell, though that too was quite effective.) Two: I frequently go to bed before Tommy, and often Coltrane will join me. (I usually sleep with my door open, to keep the room cooler.) Tommy likes to have Coltrane sleep with him though, and frankly so do I. Coltrane hogs the bed more than something the size of a throw pillow should (yes I can move him, but I have to wake up enough to realize I need to), and in the morning he wants to know why I’m not giving him his breakfast. So, yes, sleeping with Tommy, better for all concerned. To avoid coming into my room himself, Tommy will, again, rattle the treats jar, and the dog will come running.

The thing is, see, both Tommy and I are beginning to think Coltrane has figured all this out, and is now using it to get more treats. Most mornings now, when Coltrane sees Tommy putting on his coat, he'll walk under the dining table and look expectant. This had gone on for a while before we noticed it, so now he usually gets scooped out from under the table, but he had a good thing going there for a while. It’s harder to prove with the evening routine, but we do suspect that has figured out if he starts the night in my room, good things tend to happen. Okay, maybe I should put that another way. We think Coltrane has become conditioned to expect a treat if he starts the night in my room.

That said, after each of us had firmly stopped him, then rewarded him, there did seem to be less wall licking last night. Maybe it will work. I hope it does before the warm weather comes. I’d like to be able to walk around barefoot in my apartment without periodically hitting enormous oil slicks.


Melissa said...

I am curious about how the rewarding option will pan out -
I suppose if the question is who's training who, we'll have to see how chubby 'trane is when next I see him!

Cooper said...

Patrick, that sweet dog is training you. Of course, that's the way of the world for our darling canines.

I LOVE the "bucketa BUCKETA" in all its loud and soft nuances! I had to say it out loud to myself, actually. You know, it does sound like paws tapping along a wood floor. Well done, you.

I'll ask my veternarian friend if he has any tips about licking the next time I see him. My Matteo does this sometimes, too. I often find myself saying, "Stop licking that!"

Ummm, ah ... my mind just went somewhere else ... to times when I did NOT use those words. ;)

somewhere joe said...

bucketa (bu' ke-te) n. The sound made by canine paws on wooden floors. Usually printed with Patrick Lacey's innovative enlarging/diminishing point size to indicate movement and proximity and suggesting a pronounced onimonipoetic element.

somewhere joe said...

"Occasionally he gets SO excited that he immediately runs in the opposite direction of the door, then remembers why he was so excited, and comes racing back to see me."

Too funny. You could use that bit in a play.

Dame Wendy said...

The puppy dance! I miss the puppy dance. When I arrive at my parents place the dogs do laps around the whole house so excited.

Patrick said...

Credit where credit is due, I think my sister coined 'bucketa'. At least that's where I got it. It's quite effective, isn't it? I'll have to see is she got it from somewhere else, but it's the kind of thing she's very good at, so I bet she made it up. She's good with real words too.

Nicky, I hear ya... OH do I hear ya on the 'stop licking that'... Maybe you should try rewarding Matteo with a treat too. We'll compare notes to see who has stopped.

Joe: actually I have used a bit somewhat like that in a show. I've also played a dog, and I got to do the happy dance. Actually, that's when I met Melissa. She played the character who inspired the happy dance from me. Pretty much set the tone for the rest of our relationship. She even let me launch myself from about six feet away, and wrap myself around her middle. She barely even budged most nights. The woman's grounded.

Melissa said...

And let me tell you: Patrick knows how to launch!
Wendy and Patrick - I might have said this somewhere already - but I learned first hand last week that wonderful dog thing that happens when the person they love comes home (or even just rounds the corner from the other room) such love! such affection! what an ego massage!!! wow. it was great - I kind of wish I could have stolen Max and Brooklyn...hiding two 80-90 pound Labs in my jacket might have been tough however grounded I might be...Not to mention, they are much happier in lovely Pt Townsend then they'd be in the namesake borough.

tornwordo said...

Fill the cookie jar with chunks of onion, and you'll break all cycles in a flash. Cruel though. I love the dog posts.