In my house, the tendency of some dogs -- make that one dog -- toward obnoxiousness makes such behavior seem as compelling as gravity. Keeping some dogs -- make that one dog -- on the straight and narrow is every bit as easy as walking on air.
In other words, it's impossible.
Andy was born with a bad attitude. He's a prankster and a pest, exceptionally bright and not in the least inclined toward obedience. If something's in his interest, he learns it in a flash. But when it comes to learning what I want him to know, he's the dullest dog I know, with the shortest memory.
He is a very different dog from Lance, gone three years from my life but still in my heart.
Lance was the kind of dog who learned good manners willingly and used them with pride. He never wore a training collar after he reached adulthood, and considered it an affront to be leashed. He wandered with permission only, and returned when first requested. He was a gentleman, from the day I brought him home until the day he died.
Lance was clean, quiet, obedient and always well-mannered.
Andy is none of those things, even on his best days.
He's a mooch and a thief, a tracker of mud and a chewer of socks. He's a genius and a fool.
Andy understands the relationship between bringing me my shoes and going for a walk, but can't remember how to walk properly on a leash once out the door. He understands the difference between two varieties of the command "come" -- the first delivered from next to a full bathtub, the second from the kitchen, near the dog-cookie jar. The first kind he never obeys.
He gets away with it, of course, because his brattiness is adorable. But sometimes he goes too far.
Our walks had become a daily festival of misbehavior, with Andy strutting his macho stuff in front of every fenced dog on the route. He greeted every stranger by probing them for treats and barked a challenge to every cat he saw.
Clearly, it was time to add The Training Collar to the leash and refresh Andy's memory on some of the finer points of canine etiquette.
The next day I picked up Andy's leash and The Training Collar, whistling to the dog as I dropped one end through the other to form a noose. The rattling of the links tipped Andy off to the change, and suddenly he had as much interest in a walk as he has in a bath.
In the end, though, his enthusiasm overwhelmed his reluctance. I slipped The Collar over his nose and fastened the leash, ready for the first confrontation.
He bolted out the door ahead of me, as always, but stopped halfway down the leash. He turned suddenly and sat facing me, a sly smile on his face.
Without so much as the slightest correction, Andy had suddenly remembered his manners, and he practiced them the rest of the outing.
The next day I couldn't find The Training Collar anywhere, and Andy reverted to his old style with such flair that it was difficult not to laugh at his antics.
Was The Training Collar's disappearance a coincidence? I wonder. Lance may have been the best-mannered dog I ever lived with, as Toni is the sweetest, but there's no doubt in my mind that Andy's the smartest.
In the five years since he came home as a puppy, Andy always seems to get his way. And that's fine with me, in the final analysis.
Andy has never been reliable, but he's always been fun. And some things are best left as they are.
Protect your pets, protect yourself
Keeping rabies vaccinations current for dogs and cats is probably the most important pet-care act, because it not only protects your pet, but it also protects you.
There's no reason to pass up on one of the most inexpensive and sure-fire forms of protection from a horrible disease. But many people do, through ignorance or carelessness.
Rabies vaccinations for dogs are required by law. In most places, puppies must be vaccinated at 4 months and again at 16 months; thereafter the protection is good for one, two or three years, depending on the vaccine and municipal regulations.
Cats, even indoor ones, should be vaccinated as well, even if it's not required by law. It takes just one open door and a brief tangle with a rabid skunk to eliminate the protection that confinement offers.
Check the status of your pets' rabies vaccines and bring them up to date. Rabies is too serious a problem to ignore.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.