One day, a couple of years ago, Saleh was watching some show on Animal Planet about amazing dogs. The show featured a service dog, a poodle, who had been taught to “read”–his owner could hold up cards with a word on them and the dog would know what to do. By “reading” the commands, the dog could turn off lights, open doors, and a whole bunch of other things.
Naturally, being a proud baba, Saleh was convinced that Parker, our Labradoodle, could do the same thing if given the chance–after all, Parker is half poodle. So Saleh made some signs and taught Parker to “read.”
By the time Saleh was done, Parker could read three words: “sit,” “shake,” and “down.” People thought we were nuts when we told them Parker could do this, but they were also amazed when they saw it was true. My big baby was a reader. (My little baby hung around for the lessons as though he were interested, but I think that was mostly because during the lessons, Parker got a treat every time he read a word correctly.)
(I should clarify, just to make sure everyone knows that I’m not a total nut, that I know that dogs cannot actually read. Parker–and the dog on Animal Planet–learned to recognize the shape of the word and the command that went with it.)
But I shouldn’t have been surprised about Parker’s literacy skills. Not only is he a very smart baby to begin with, but he has also been to school. When I first got him, as a six-week-old puppy, he was about thirty pounds (15 kilos or so), and of course, he just got bigger and bigger. And more and more affectionate, which meant that I had to take him to puppy school to learn to be a functioning member of society…because his main issue was that whenever someone came to the house, he would leap up on them, planting his front paws on their chest, as though they were a long-lost friend that he hadn’t seen in ages.
Naturally, that did not endear most people to Parker (although once when we were out and about, Parker did this to a man, who then exclaimed, “Oh, he is such a beautiful dog! Have you ever thought of putting him in movies or TV shows?” Ha. Ha ha.)
So we went to puppy school at PetSmart in Springfield, Missouri, and we had a wonderful time. (One of our classmates told me, “It’s so funny to see you drive up to class in that little Beetle with big ol’ Parker sitting in the front seat!”) Park learned to sit, stay, and all those other basic commands. He never has gotten very good at obeying them consistently–life is just too exciting for him. But he doesn’t jump on people anymore (at least, he doesn’t jump up unless you pat your chest while standing in front of him, which is his signal that you are explicitly asking for a Parker hug). And when things are calm around him and there is nothing to distract him, he will obey commands all day. And he loves to fetch a ball and bring it back to you to throw it again. It’s one of his favorite things to do.
Andy, meanwhile, has not had the same benefit of formal education. He’s smaller (much, much smaller), so no one ever really cared if he jumped on them. When he jumps on people, they coo about how cute he is. When Parker jumped on someone, the unlucky victim looked terrified as I charged my dog, yelling, “Down, Parker, down!” The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say, so Andy never went to puppy school.
This is not to say he isn’t smart, though. He knows his name, obviously, and the nicknames we have for him, and all their variations. Such as “Andy-Pandy.” And “Stinky Pete,” which became the shortened “Tinky Pete,” which got shortened even further to just, “the Tinky” or plain old “Tinky.” And “Mister Andy,” which got transformed into the baby-talk variation, “Misser Andy,” which got shortened further to just, “the Misser,” and sometimes just “Misser.” And he knows to come when called…most of the time, unless food is involved. And if food is involved, either he’ll totally ignore you if you’re not the one with the food or he will come running to you without being called if you are. He has a sixth sense about food–if he hears any sort of wrapper being crinkled, or if he hears the refrigerator door open, or if he hears the clink of silverware on a plate, he will come running. But he knows he can’t eat chocolate, so if anyone is eating it in his presence, he won’t even try for it. And he knows the word “no”–even when food is involved.
But as for the typical commands and tricks that dogs do…well, Andy has never had much use for them. He’ll play with a squeaky toy now and again, but not often. If you throw a ball for him to fetch, he’ll stand there and look at you as if to say, “Wow, that’s a pretty neat trick you did there with that ball. How do you plan to get it back?” And he doesn’t really sit, stay, roll over, or anything else.
But Saleh is nothing if not optimistic about his sons’ intellectual ability, and occasionally he will try to teach Andy a basic command.
It mostly doesn’t work.
Andy does his own thing, that’s for sure. I’ve been walking sporadically throughout my pregnancy, but lately I’ve been trying to get us both in the routine of walking every afternoon, since I read that regular exercise will help prepare me for an easier labor. I go down to the hosh (the walled courtyard that surrounds the house), pop my iPod earbuds in my ears, and walk around the house for about an hour.
When I first got to Riyadh, the huge walls around every house were intimidating to me, and I kind of considered them an eyesore because they obstruct the view of the design of each house. But now, the hosh is certainly one of my favorite parts about where I live. My in-laws have made it so beautiful and cozy, and I love spending time out in the sun there.
Walls and sky.
One of the doors. I just love all the vases, decorations, and plants that my in-laws have in the hosh. I know it sounds cheesy, but our hosh has such personality.
My father-in-law discovered this Kuwaiti license plate in a trash pile outside our house. He brought it in and hung it on the wall. Yes, my father-in-law is kinda like a Saudi Fred Sanford…which is yet another reason that I think he and my dad would get along swimmingly. (For the record, I’m pretty sure he did not find the swords in a trash pile. And the swords are not actual, like, deadly swords…they are made for sword dancing.)
Of course, Andy goes with me when I walk, because exercise is good for him, too, especially since he manages to make sure that his diet is supplemented by kabsa.
For about the first lap, he is thrilled. He runs ahead of me and looks back to see why I’m not right behind him.
“Come on, Momma! Hurry up!”
Then for the next lap, he slows down and lets me catch up with him. He trots alongside me.
For maybe another two laps, he will trail behind me.
“Are you sure you want keep walking? I mean, is that something you really want to do?”
“You’re sure you don’t want to take a seat in this pretty red chair, Momma? Come on, put your feet up!”
Then, by the time we get to the fifth lap, the fun has worn off and he’s done. He goes and sits by the door, waiting to be let back inside the house.
“I am so done. Please let me in.”
This was a particularly good day to be Andy, because there was cat food and water in the hosh. There is a street cat who has been hanging around our house, and she likes to be out during the day, but my in-laws let her into the hosh at night. This situation started because when we would get home, she would run up to us and nuzzle our legs, and of course, she melted our hearts. Most street cats are not as friendly as this particular cat is, so Saleh and I think that she was probably dumped by someone who got tired of her once she was no longer a kitten.
Andy benefits from this situation, but it makes it even more difficult to get him to move.
Sometimes the cats watch us walk when the screen door is open. They are generally unimpressed with us…especially with Andy.
Sometimes my mother-in-law comes to the door and watches us. When Andy gets tired and comes to the door, she giggles at him and encourages him, “Rooh, Andy, rooh!” (“Go, Andy, go!”) Andy never listens. (Or maybe, like his momma, he just needs Arabic lessons…but somehow I’m thinking language wouldn’t matter in this case.) Finally, after he gives her his best “Oh, please feed me–I’m a sad and hungry little urchin” look, she gives in and shares whatever snack she’s eating with him. And then…well, then it’s next to impossible to get the little potbellied piglet to move.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try, though. Every once in awhile I will use my foot to guide him off the front step and away from the door, to get him moving. When I do this, he sprints ahead of me and jumps on one of the chairs or couches, so that I can’t reach him with my foot to make him go.
Anyone who says you need schooling to be smart has never met Andy.