Teaching my Dog in France

By Suzy Gershman

“Just as you learned to speak French, you must learn to speak dog”  the dog trainer tells me, in French.
   

Learning how to speak French was one of the hardest things I ever did, but learning to speak dog does not seem too easy partly because it involves speaking dog with a French accent and making sounds with parts of my throat that are unused by American speech. I still haven’t mastered a French r. Now I’ve been asked to growl and say lilililili in a proper clucking manner.  Part of what is so terrifying about all this is how well my six month old miniature teckel Toffee responds to dog talk.
   

Florian is training me to be a proper dog mother. When I am trained, I will be able to control Toffee and he will respond to the rules I teach him. We have begun by watching a DVD—in French—from National Geographic that is about wolves in Yellowstone. I am to learn that my dog is indeed an animal; I am to learn to think like  dog. In younger years, I tried to think like a fox. Now I will be dancing with wolves.
   

Because of my travel schedule, Toffee and I are in a intensive training course, we two weeks of practice in French and English. We must continue in this vein for six more months, when we are in the US and I am to understand that the dog will not be fully trained for three years. Until that point, I am to teach him how to be a good dog. And I once thought being called a bitch was a bad thing.
    

To break Toffee of his annoying habit of peeing in our bed, he has been banned from the bed for one month. He is to sleep in a dog bed next to mine.  At the same time, I must train the dog to accept a man in my bed.
    

“Do you have a boyfriend?” Florian asks me.
   

As opposed to what, a girlfriend? I must have barked. Florian rephrased the question. “Does a man sometimes sleep in your bed?”
   

Well yes, as a matter of fact. Toffee has a daddy but I only see him once a month.
   

“Toffee must be taught to accept him now, or there will be trouble later.”
    

Uh-oh.
    

When Toffee exhibits behavior that is not acceptable, I a to bar my teeth and growl at him. The growl is to have a French accent, bien sur.
   

I am learning to be an alpha female.
   

“The dog is always behind you; you are the mother.”  I reflect on Prince Philip and the ten paces he must keep behind Queen Elizabeth.  When I carry the dog in his tote, especially into a plane or a new situation, he needs to be behind me to know he can follow me and I will take care of him. When we walk, he must walk behind  me. Heretofore I had been wondering how a 4 pound dog was strong enough to pull me along the road as Toffee has managed to do. Now I know why. I have not been a good mother. Bad mother. Bad, bad, bad.
   

I put the dog bed at the foot of my bed and turned on the wolf movie. Instead of getting in bed to watch it, as is my wont, I sit in a chair next to the dog bed. Toffee cries to be lifted into my lap. I make clucking sounds—trying to sound like a dog not a duck—and point him to the bed. He gets the idea and settles into the bed. When he leaves the bed and tries to get into my lap, I growl. It’s breaking my heart, but I growl with as much sincerity as I can manage.
  

“I’m doing this for your future, kid” I think to myself.  I’m not here to be your friend, I’m your mother.
    

For about $700, I will have five two hour lessons with Florian and use of the DVD which he stresses I should watch twice a day for a week. I wonder if there will be a pop quiz. We have two sessions of training (I’m the one being trained) and then three sessions of practice with Toffee.  I have unlimited e-mail and telephone access to Florian for three more months. I’d like to think he’s my shrink at these prices, but there’s no way I can express my inner feelings in French, let alone in dog.
     

I must stop being a guimauve, I tell myself—a marshmellow.  The dog is trying to train me, Florian explained and I must be stronger than he is; I must display authority and confidence.  I am the master. Actually, I am the mistress. It has been my goal in life to become a mistress. I just never quite saw it this way.
   

Florian and I book the schedule for the upcoming two weeks and I try to ask if Toffee will be able to work while recovering from his operation. I do not know any of these words in French. I make a scissors motion with my fingers.
   

“Grooming?” Florian asks me.
    

“No, the big cut” I manage to say.
    

“Castre?”
    

“Oui!”
    

He advises that Toffee is too young. Perhaps he can have this performed in the US when he is eight months old, when his testicles have more properly descended. Hmmmm.  As a dwarf, Toffee is very small. I figure we better give him every chance there is for the vet to even find his balls, let alone remove them.
   

And then I give myself a milk bone.

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