This is Grover. Grover is ill-behaved.
Left to his devices, Grover topples the garbage can, scattering its contents across the kitchen floor.
In the time it takes you to check the mail, Grover snatches a 4-pack of banana nut muffins from the counter with his long and frighteningly dexterous front paws. They’re gone in 60 seconds– muffin cups and all.
He’s made a “game” out of pinning the family cat to the floor. (We’re at a loss as to why she doesn’t smack him in the gob; instead, she sneaks into the house with the panicked look of a prisoner trying to make a jailbreak.)
Someone walking in the front door sends Grover into super-hyper-spastic mode. It doesn’t matter that you’re carrying groceries or that your holding a lava-hot cup of coffee – Grover is happy to see you and by golly he’s going to give you a big, slobbering hug to show it.
He pulls his leash on walks, digs holes indiscriminately in the back yard and goes bonkers in the car when he sees a person walking or, Heaven forbid, a person walking a dog. (Neighborhood cats also make him nuts.)
You get the picture.
We should’ve realized we had our hands full when we brought him home as a puppy. I’d planned to cordon him off in my kitchen during the day while I was at work, and my girlfriend agreed to periodically check in on him. After the second day, a neighbor taped a note to my apartment door asking what we were doing to the puppy to make him howl bloody murder for 8 hours, non-stop. On the third day, as I readied for work, Grover demonstrated the extent of his distaste for being alone by climbing the baby gate I’d set up.
The next day, we instituted a policy whereby Grover would stay with his human mother (who worked from home during the day) and his daddy at night.
One day, we thought we’d bring Grover with us to Mad Dogs & Englishmen, an Irish pub in South Tampa, and one of the few places where you can dine outside with your canine friends. He was probably six months at the time. Upon seeing another dog, Grover became apoplectic, started pulling on his leash and barking his head off. It was quite a scene.
(We went back, sans Grover, just this past weekend, where, coincidentally, there were two well-behaved golden doodles at a table beside us. My fiancé remarked how nice it would be to have Grover lay calmly beside us. To which I responded: “Are you kidding? He’d be out back by the dumpster, drinking a 40. Maybe we should start sedating him.”
I was joking, of course.
For all of his obnoxious behaviors, our Labradoodle friend has some redeeming qualities. He loves to frolic and play with my fiancés’ kids in her back yard. He’ll fetch the tennis ball every time. He knows how to sit and shake – especially if you’re holding a treat behind your back. And he’s sweet on Bella, a black and white Pit bull pup who lives in the apartment next door. It’s something to watch them nuzzle each other and race back and forth across the quad.
It was precisely because of his loving disposition towards the neighbor’s dog that made me believe it was a good idea to bring Grover to a “doodle romp,” a monthly get-together where fellow Labradoodle owners assemble and watch their dogs run, cavort and act goofy.
But as soon as we brought Grover through the double gates, he got into a minor fracas with a 6 month-old golden doodle named Harley.
He spent the next 20 minutes trying to “protect” his people, even nipping at another golden when she came too close to us. He made a few half-hearted attempts to play with his strange new friends, but I could see the experience was stressing him out.
Later that night, I did a little digging on the Labradoodle breed. One expert explained how these loveable “designer” dogs make excellent service dogs; their temperament is suitable for hospitals, nursing homes and they are sometimes used as therapy dogs. As I read on, I started to wonder: how do I reconcile the good deeds of these mild-mannered and gainfully employed pooches with my canine equivalent of a Hell’s Angel? Then I found another site that somewhat allayed my fears. It said Labradooodles, when bred properly, are the best of the retriever and the poodle breeds. They get the fun, playful side from their retriever genes and their intelligence from their poodle lineage. The author said Labradoodles tend to become “boisterous and mischievous” when left to their own devices.
I’ve never one to put much time or energy into dog training. I’ve always thought of dogs as delightfully loyal companions — making them act a certain way, vis-a-vis jump through hoops, was more for human entertainment. I’ve had all kinds of dogs and always believed that winding up with a “good” one or a “bad” one was luck of the draw.
Boy, was I wrong.
Dogs, like humans, are neither innately good or bad. Sure, temperament factors into the equation – especially where questionable breeding practices come into play. Like humans, dogs are shaped, for better or worse, by their environment. Without a pack leader to give them subtle queues, they will defer to their basic instinct.
And so this week Grover goes to school. For the next six days he will get all of the mental and physical stimulation a rambunctious Labradoodle could hope for. Desirable behaviors will be reinforced.
I will be a better, more responsible owner if I can figure out a way to replace his whole menace to society routine with a little more servitude.
And Grover will be a happier pup for it.