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Black Lamb


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Doggy dog world

March 1st, 2007


winkinggal.jpgDear Millie,

We recently installed a small “dog door” for our six-year-old terrier. We have succeeded in teaching him to open it with his nose and go in and out without being pushed. The only problem is, he waits patiently for a signal from us — either a verbal command such as “come on in” or “go on out,” or a hand signal pointing him the way — before either entering or exiting. This rather defeats the purpose of the whole thing, which is to enable him to use the back yard facilities when we are away from home and, having done his business, to be able to return to his warm, dry bed. I seem to remember that you have dog training experience. Do you have any suggestions?

Doorkeeper in Duluth

Dear Doorkeeper,

My dog training experience comes entirely from my having lived with canines since I was a tiny girl, and it strikes me that in dealing with dogs (or any pets) you have to keep in mind the animal’s point of view. Now I’m guessing that your obedient pet is one of those “cute” little things. Probably spoiled rotten, but you can take advantage of this, because with this sort of dog, spoiled rotten means overflowing with gratitude and loyalty, and absolutely dying to be with you.

When the weather gets nicer, and the dog is inside, near his dog door, the two of you should arrange to station yourself outside, perhaps enjoying a drink on the back porch. Have a nice chat together, not calling to your dog in any way, and I’ll bet that your little doggie, hearing your voices and eager to be with you, will find his own way through his door to your side. Alternatively, you can do the reverse: station yourselves inside, mixing a nice couple of martinis and engaging in your customary marital repartee, with Fido outside, listening to your voices. I think he’ll just push on in to join the fun.

Dogs are not stupid. Once yours learns that he can go where he wants without any permission or encouragement, he’ll be able to make use of his dog door on his own, and you can go out for dinner, leaving him at home, without wondering if he’ll have the nerve to venture outside if the urge strikes him.


Dear Miss Marshall,

What are your thoughts on giving names to dogs? I’ve recently acquired a wonderful puppy, as yet nameless. Can I affect his personality by the moniker I attach to him?

Wanna do right

Dear Wanna,

You probably can’t affect his personality by the name you assign him, but you’ll certainly affect yours. If you’re the sort of person who likes to anthropomorphize the animals around you, you should certainly give him a human name. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to let the animal remain an animal (albeit a beloved one), give him a thouroughly doggy name. An alternative is to name your dog after something you want to think about. Some friends of mine, enamored of American history, called their puppy The Rights of Man. This enabled them to think of dear old Tom Paine every time their dog (nicknamed Rights) entered the picture. If you’re inclined to New Agey jargon, you might consider calling your pup Fulfillment or Opportunity or Potential. On the other hand, if you’re an academic, you might want to get into the spirit of political correctness and multiculturalism by giving your bitch puppy a thoroughly masculine name, calling your male pet Emily, or naming your Chihuahua Bruno.

Just remember that this naming business is all for you, not for the animal. A dog called Karl Marx is going to get through its days without giving a moment’s thought to the class struggle, but you’re going to think of Das Kapital every time you call him in for dinner. If that turns you on, then go for it.


Send your query to Millicent Marshall care of Black Lamb. Letters may be edited for length. Replies not guaranteed confidential. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ask Millie, Marshall | Link to this Entry


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