Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year. Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!
Prompt for December 22: Persevere: How did you persevere in 2011? Did you make the best of an otherwise not so good situation? How did you cope? What did you learn?
Aside from again stating the somewhat maudlin obvious — that my entire 2011 was a not-so-good situation, but I coped and learned a lot — there was one thing in particular that stands out as a lemons-to-lemonades type-thing. (Sorry, that was a LOT of hyphens…)
I taught the dog to ring a bell when he wanted to go out. I did this because nobody likes stepping in a cold puddle of someone else’s urine. (Nobody likes stepping in a warm puddle of someone else’s urine either, but that’s neither here nor there.) (I have an opinion on this because I grew up with a brother and with dogs — boys have bad aim, and dogs get old.)
I don’t want to take all the credit here — because the bell thing was actually Bill’s idea — but I will take credit for seeing it through to full execution. Dog training takes a lot of work. Lots of getting on hands and knees and ringing that stupid bell with your own nose to try to “teach” the dog that he needed to ring the bell before going out, or to signal that he wanted to go out.
You’d think he was getting it, then he’d go in and pee on the Wee Wee Pad.
House-training a dog in New York City is not an easy thing. I have a lousy track record with it — my ex-husband’s dogs (who I raised from puppies and are now nearly-six and nearly-seven) are still not fully house-trained. He and I used to fight about it constantly, and spent an amount of money that probably could’ve put one of the dogs through the lower school at Dalton on cleaning and replacing rugs.
Roo was always very well paper-trained, but wasn’t getting the bell thing. I was obsessed with it – particularly after the Bill thing exploded, because I wasn’t paying as much attention to Roo as I could’ve, or should’ve been. But my arm was in a sling, and I was hurting all over, and keeping up with ringing a bell with my nose and fighting with a willful little bundle of dog over how he signaled how he wanted to go out seemed pretty unpalatable.
We’d kept at it for so long — basically for Roo’s entire life and he was now approaching a year old — when was this nonsense going to pay off??
A few weeks after Bill left, Roo rang the bell to signal he wanted to go out. And he rang it again, and again, and now he rings it every time (in fact, he just rang it, and I am still writing. This will obviously end well). We had persevered; we had triumphed. (Though Strand will sometimes say: Who trained whom? with regard to my response — and her response, when she’s stayed with him — to the weird, existential, Pavlovian cycle of ring-and-response-neverendless-mindless-walking that results from the bell ringing)
Yes, he still occasionally has accidents in the house (he’s young; I sometimes ignore his bell ringing; I think there are few apartment dogs who don’t have accidents). But the bell is a magical thing.
Dog training, like all things worth having in a relationship, took time, effort, and an extraordinary willingness to look silly. Maybe it’s not just the bell I stuck with. Maybe it has also been sticking with looking silly.