Magazine article The Spectator

'Make Him Sit and Wait'

Magazine article The Spectator

'Make Him Sit and Wait'

Article excerpt

The lady in the orange baseball cap is shouting to be heard.

It is true that she hasn't got much choice -- the barking has become deafening. 'You have to teach them to respect you!' she screams.

Owners tug sheepishly at their dogs' leads and attempt to shush them without appearing to be unworthy of respect. 'Otherwise they can make your life completely miserable.' It occurs to me that this is a point that could be made about creatures other than 12-week-old puppies.

While, for Marmite, Tip Top training is about getting little chunks of garlicky cheese for doing fairly rudimentary things on Hampstead Heath (though it is true that he struggles somewhat with 'roll over'), for me it turns out to be relationship counselling with a few child-rearing pointers thrown in.

The key thing, Sue (the orange baseball cap-wearing dog trainer) tells us, standing in a circle of nervous owners and frenzied puppies, raising her voice above the wind, is to reward good behaviour and ignore bad. So, when he chews the cover of Melanie Klein's Love, Guilt and Reparation, take it from him gently, hand him one of his own toys (eg.

squeaky lobster) and say 'Good trade' in your most encouraging voice. Easy.

A friend of mine (also a national newspaper editor) told me recently that he was falling in love with his new girlfriend because she made him eggs on toast when he rolled in drunk rather than giving him 'the usual aggro'. Now, this could be cringing feminine servitude in the face of pissed oppressor, or, on closer inspection, could it be that New Girlfriend is in fact practising Tip Top obedience-enhancing techniques? By overlooking bad behaviour, she could be ensuring future respect. If she had doled out the expected aggro, would my friend have continued with his metaphorical (and perhaps literal) weeing on the carpet?

Back on the Heath the Great Dane is not behaving himself. He has twice pulled his 'Mummy' over and she is shouting at him, exasperated.

'There's no point in screaming at him, ' Sue says, coming over with her pockets full of cheese. 'It's like screaming at your children. They know they don't really have to do anything until you start. Give the command once and encourage him with a treat.' I think of all the times I have yelled at the children, weeping with fury and exhaustion; 'Why, why, WHY do I have to get into THIS kind of state before I can get you to start putting your clothes on? !' 'Now then. You don't want puppy barging past you to get through the door first, ' Sue says, doing a convincing impression of an impatient, bargy dog. 'He won't be this size forever. Make him sit and wait, then you go through the door and he comes in last. It's basic respect.' She uses a Scotty called Elvis and two red cones to demonstrate doorway etiquette. Russian men know all about holding doors open for ladies. English men need to go to Tip Top training and practice with cones.

At the imaginary door Elvis stops and waits, an odour of respect clinging to him.

He is a prime example of a Tip Top dog.

We others look on in bewildered awe at his grace and servility, despairing of the chewing, straining, scratching and scavenging wretches at our own feet. 'He stays just by your left leg, taking his cue from your own walking speed.' My husband, on the other hand, walks ten paces in front of me, increasing his pace as I scuttle cockroach-like to keep up with him, tugging desperately on my mental lead to no avail. …

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