My dog Hurley knows two commands: “Feed me!” and “Bring me my fetch toy, owner boy!”
Everybody thought it was so cute when he was a surly little puppy. “Oh, look!” they’d say. “He thinks he’s your master.” But two years later he’s grown into an eighty-five pound dog with an inflatable swimming pool of a slobber problem and this booming voice like James Earl Jones — and his authority issues aren’t as adorable somehow.
It’s like living with a benevolent but ill-mannered drunk. Especially when he’s staggering around the kitchen after one of our long morning walks.
I need to establish my role as pack leader. That’s what all the library books suggest. And all the dog trainers and animal behaviorists I’ve hired. And all the friends and family members I now consider dead to me.
It didn’t take too long for all the people who used to be my sounding boards to wind up wondering aloud — often in the same bullying tone — how I had let myself become bullied by a dog that enjoys reality TV garbage like America’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars.
It’s his remote control, I reminded them. He paid for that flat panel with his money.
And boy did they feign hurt and offense when I dared to wonder aloud why I’d let them into my house in the first place. And who had made them the boss of me and the critic of my dog’s TV viewing habits anyway. If I feel like hiking my leg and soiling the end of the couch where guests sit, that’s what I’m going to do.
I’ll hump whatever I choose, too. Lecture someone else about displaying dominant behaviors. Because this is still my house — until Hurley tells me otherwise.
The other day we were rolling around in the yard, sniffing each other’s butts when he said, “Brian, I feel terrible that I’ve come between you and your family and you and those loser friends of yours. They weren’t much, but they were all you had, really, besides me. It must be lonely for you now.
“You’re looking like hell, too, man — like you haven’t slept in months. Is it my late night poker games? Be honest. Seriously, let’s talk about it. You’re worrying me, bro. You can’t lose another job. Those chew toys don’t pay for themselves.”
Then he sort of smiled.
That was when I realized that despite his gruff exterior, Hurley really is a good dog. And he is looking out for me, his master. Because there’s nothing I love more than getting my teeth into a rawhide or a rubber bone.