Little Bear Rules
When The Little Bear acquired me, my specie-ist chest puffed with benevolent intentions. I was would be the world’s best dad. I laid plans to buy him books and send him to school. I posted a chalk board over the water bowl with important words. I started a stuffed animal collection. I determined to be a strict but loving Parent.
My rules were basic and boring. No dead rabbits past the doormat. Come, sit, stay, no knocking old ladies over. Pizza dripping surfaces higher than the floor were verboten.
It had not yet occurred to me that rules are a reciprocal contract.
Dog school had been unexpected fun and unexpected. He got to sniff butts while I banged my head against the notion of learning to speak Dog. And there was homework. Who knew?
They taught me to teach with love, praise and patience.
Did I mention bribes?
I filled the kitchen sink with water and tested the temperature on my wrist. I cooed, loved and gently placed Mr. Small in the water. I murmured and streamed friendly baby babble and gently massaged him with Grandma Mabel’s Organic Hypo-allegenic Oatmeal Dog Beauty Shampoo. I had never seen his ears so tightly glued to his head.
I was ready. I offered his favorite, a small hot dog chunk. He accepted it, gave me THE LOOK, opened his mouth and let it drop into the soapy water.
He never once struggled. He bathed me in disdain.
THE LOOK is a powerful tool that combines disapproval, loathing and contempt in an aloof and quietly superior way. Veteran that I am now, I am still not immune.
If I wash my face and the water runs, he gets up, gives me THE LOOK and slowly exits.
I learned that baby talk was annoying and that five minutes of petting was my limit.
He told me any dog treat with preservatives and artificial softeners is an attempt to poison him… Smart dog.
Food has elaborate Little Bear Rules. A cookie in a wilderness area we have never before visited must be buried. Perhaps we may return again someday. When treats are given to the neighborhood pack, he must be served first. I must fight through the thicket of stewing dogs to where he sits calmly and gently offer. It will be smelled and judged before acceptance. IF IT IS ACCEPTED.
Dinner cannot be judged and considered until I am seated and viewing. I am required to watch him eat. Further, there is a distance rule. I must watch him eat from no further away than three feet. I once moved his bowl six inches further and was forced to move it back.
Our negotiations are not one sided. As I have mentioned there are things I require from him. I never taught him “the invisible line”. The first time we tried it, he knew and honored. The contract must be well written because he has the soul of a lawyer.
One warm summer day we visited a friend with horses and she brought out iced lemonade and we sat in the shade of her barn to visit. She was concerned and asked that I not allow my dog to go inside the horse pen. I walked to the fence and drew the invisible line at its base. “This is a no, this is all a no”‘ is the mantra of line drawing. She was impressed. We settled and sipped from those jars with handles. A rabbit darted into the open on the far side of the corral. Her dog pack set up a yap, slipped under the fence and were off. My boy went to the first fence post where the line had started and slipped through a small crack between it and the barn. He quickly caught the pack. We just howled with laughter. I had started the line just after that first post.
There is more. I am not permitted to sneeze in the house. I may sneeze in any other location but not in the house. This had never been an issue for him. Rules can change. I had a serious illness and sat in my chair immobile for a week and left him for a two week hospital stay. No sneezing was involved. This episode however marked the institution of his no sneezing rule. I get the look and ……
It has been more than a decade and a half. I believe I am nearly trained. No one told me my house training would be this much fun.