Have I got a story for you…

Last night, I was crouched on the floor in front of the dog food container and in the middle of filling Kongs with kibble. Two big ones, two smaller ones, four Kongs in all. As the routine goes, after filling them with kibble my next move is to take them to the counter where I add a little bit of canned pumpkin and then seal ‘em up with canned dog food. Then I put them all in the freezer so they’re ready the next morning when I’ll give a big one to Gomez and a smaller one to Asha for breakfast. This is how Asha and Gomez typically eat their weekday morning meal. Feeding frozen Kongs is more challenging than eating out of a bowl which helps wear the pups out. They’d scarf down the same contents in a standard dog bowl in mere minutes, but frozen Kong meals occupy them the whole time I’m getting ready for work. (You should try it with your dog!)

 As I stood up to move to the counter, disaster struck. Good ol’ Laura “Lazy Man’s Load” Witkowski tried to bring all four kibble-filled Kongs with her at once. As soon as I turned toward the counter, one of the Kongs slipped from my hands. It hit the kitchen floor and little brown, canine nutritional triangles sprayed into the air and landed all over the kitchen floor with a festive clatter. Here’s what makes this story interesting: Asha and Gomez were sitting five feet away from me when this happened. Watching me fill Kongs is high up on their favorite things to do list. If you asked them what their favorite program was, they’d probably tell you, “The Kong Stuffin’ Show.” They watched, wide-eyed, heads cocked from their front row seat as the dog food confetti went flying. Without even looking toward them, and without raising my voice one iota, I said, “Leave it.” And they didn’t budge. I then started to pick the kibble up off the floor but not before adding a quick, inside-voice “Stay” lest they get any ideas (“Now that the dust had settled, it’s every pup for himself! CHARGE!”). And they stayed. When I was done picking up the food, I walked over to them and gave them each a piece to thank them for keeping their shit together during what had to be a goddamn party alert to them.

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 That one of these two dogs is Gomez fills me with both pride and astonishment. It wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t even think about touching his food container unless he was in his crate. And even then he barked and whined in a way that seemed to say, “I’m trying to keep my cool, but damn woman – I see food!” Eventually I got him to wait calmly in his crate while watching food activities. Then he graduated to being allowed to come right up to a baby gate (A gate that he has shown us on multiple occasions he can easily clear and/or knock down but now respects the boundary it sets) and watch me prepare meals. A little while after that, I could let him into the kitchen to watch me once the Kongs were on the counter. Then, with time, I could let him in the kitchen while I crouched down to fill Kongs, but goodness help us if there was even a piece of kibble dropped. Dude couldn’t help but lunge for it so I had to be quick to get to it first. But now, here we are. One year later. And Gomez watches dog food confetti fly through the air and hit the floor and there he sits. Ears up. Alert. Watching my every move. But he stays put. Such a good boy.

One whole year. That’s how long we’ve had Gomez as part of our family. And his transition from well-meaning caveman to Very Good Boy is pretty dramatic. If this were an actual TV show, this is the part where we’d do a montage of clips looking back on the trials and tribulations of his metamorphosis. So try to visualize the following things happening in slow motion while the theme song from Chariots of Fire plays in your head:

  • Gomez running full force into our house for the very first time. He’s stopped only by his leash catching under the stove which he then pulls several feet across the kitchen before I get the leash uncaught.
  • Gomez ambushing me as I open the fridge. I hear him behind me but it’s too late – he’s already body checking me into the open refrigerator.
  • Gomez snatching a giant, dead rat off the sidewalk with the skill of a seasoned street dog. My girlfriend and I scream and basically flail around helplessly until I run back inside to grab a block of cheese. He thankfully “trades” for this.
  • Gomez on a wild tear, pulling me through the icy streets of my neighborhood on a treacherous walk. As he whips around a corner into an icy parking lot, I almost lose my balance. I awkwardly flail my arms in an attempt to stay upright and inadvertently bring my hand holding a small bag of his waste down on his head. It splits open and gets on his face.
  • Gomez running around the snowy backyard, playing with a ball. I throw the ball for him and beam as he runs after it. My expression changes from pride to confusion as he abruptly turns from the ball and bounds toward me. My confusion turns to terror as he grabs onto my pant leg and boot. I spend the next several minutes trying to calmly make my way to the back door with Gomez firmly attached to my ankle.

Now, try to visualize the following successful moments happening in a “training montage” while the song “You’re the Best Around” from the Karate Kid soundtrack plays in your head:

  • Gomez engaged in a game of tug. He’s all riled up, shaking his giant head and really getting into it. I give him the command “drop.” He immediately does and waits for me to begin the game again.
  • Gomez sitting politely (though excitedly tap dancing with his front feet) on a rug in the kitchen as I get his frozen Kong out of the fridge. I ask him to go in his crate. He turns and runs right in and waits for his meal.
  • Gomez walking politely by my side. We see a cat in the distance. I ask him to “watch me” as the cat runs by. He give me immediate eye contact instead of chasing the cat.
  • Gomez goes to snatch a treat out of my hand with a hard chomp. I snatch it away and say, “Gomez, gentle.” I present the treat. He sticks his tongue out a little and takes it from my hand like a champ.
  • Gomez keeping his excitement in check and greeting visitors with his four feet on the floor the entire time. His tail wags his whole butt as he moves from person to person making new friends.
  • After a devastating blow to the leg, Gomez recovers and knocks his arch enemy out with a swift kick to the face using the “crane technique” taught to him by Mr. Miyagi. (Whoops, that’s actually Karate Kid.)

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Sometimes it still feels like a miracle to see Gomez make good choices. But it’s not a miracle – it’s the culmination of patience, reward-based training, routine and structure. When provided what he needed to succeed, Gomez was able to show us that he truly is the best around. He’s also encouraged me to pursue my interest in training so I can help other people mold their well-meaning cavemen and caveladies. If Gomez can do it, your dog can do it! Happy one year anniversary, Mr. Gomez. We’re lucky to have you in our lives!