I’ve been around big dogs my entire life – labradors, German shepherds, mastiffs, golden retrievers and American bulldogs – with zero problems. But my fierce love for Theo proved that I can handle a big dog, not a big personality.
Theo is a moodle – yes, yet another ’oodle variety that’s slowly taking over Australia, much like those faux French chateaus that have cannibalised Melbourne’s inner east. Half poodle, half maltese, he looks like the ever-popular cavoodle but was significantly cheaper; moodles are essentially the Aldi of ’oodles.
Theo simply doesn’t get tired – ever. If it wasn’t so exhausting, it would be impressive.
Theo routinely drapes himself around my neck like a scarf, pinning me to the couch; he uses my bladder like a trampoline; I don’t walk him, he walks me; he uses the living room as his own parkour workout; I haven’t been to the toilet on my own in 19 months.
I really wanted a new Kate Spade handbag, but I wanted control of my life back more.
It was time to go to obedience school.
I was nervous as we entered the facility on week one. I fully expected Theo to be the class clown but he did something even worse – he behaved impeccably. He sat when he was told to sit, he walked without pulling and listened when the instructor, Pam, gave him directions.
How dare you, I thought, looking at him like he was my boyfriend and I’d caught him kissing someone else. I felt betrayed.
Theo was oddly calm and restrained around Pam and he actually listened to her. It took me until week two to figure out why – it was because she didn’t take any shit from him. The second he misbehaved, she pulled him up on it. Theo couldn’t charm Pam into getting his own way and he knew it.
I tried joking with her about this, but it turns out Pam wasn’t taking any shit from me, either.
“Theo’s not like this with me at home,” I said. “I’ll have to leave him with you for a week!”
‘You’re such a good boy!’
“It’s because you give in to him too easily,” Pam said sternly. “You crouch down to his level. You need to stand up straight and have him look up to you.”
At this point, if Pam had asked me to sit and wag my tail, I would have.
By week three, I was starting to crack under my own pressure. Theo followed some exercises well, but continued to refuse to sit on command. While the four other dogs in class would sit perfectly, Theo would walk around casually, like he was window shopping. He would listen to Pam, but not to me. I could feel my face getting warm with frustration.
When Theo did actually sit for me, I would be so overjoyed I would lavish him with praise and hug him.
“Good boy! That’s a good baby boy! You’re such a good boy! Mama loves you!”
That would teach him that doing the right thing would result in a positive response, right?
No, according to Pam.
“You’re giving him too much praise. Just one ‘good boy’ is enough.”
It dawned on me suddenly: Theo didn’t need training, I did.
Pam was right – I was too soft on Theo. I was bending over, literally, to appease this bite-sized T rex who had turned my life into Jurassic Park. And not the good one – Jurassic Park III.
Nineteen months of his exhausting behaviour had worn me down and instead of being strict for his own good, I’d been suckered in with his loving cuddles and kisses that had acted as a temporary Band-Aid. I’d told myself that I’d deal with it later, but to him, the message he’d received was that what he was doing was OK. And so he continued, and so did the cycle.
Simply put, I was constantly exchanging five minutes of peace in the presence for a whole lot more trouble in the future. And the future was now biting me in the arse.
‘Theo is too smart’
By the end of the six-week course, I had received far more instruction than Theo. This should be an embarrassing confession, but as someone used to public humiliation, it’s just called “my life”.
The other problem is that Theo is smart – too smart. He actually knows all the commands, but he simply refuses to obey when he doesn’t want to. He even pulls what I call his “shit-eating grin”, something he does when he wants me to know he’s not going to listen. The poodle side of him may be a smarty-pants but the maltase side is a complete arsehole.
I love Theo fiercely; would do anything for him. If someone so much as looked at him the wrong way, I would make it my life’s mission to make sure they got no peace in this life or the next. We now have regular training sessions; I’d rather be making Star Wars jokes on Twitter, but Theo needs consistency until he realises that he’s not, in fact, the leader of the pack.
Actually, no. It’s me who needs the consistency. I need the training – the ongoing reminder that I am still battling for control with a 7kg teddy bear.