Lee Pitts: It must be magic (Best of)
February 25, 2011
I’ve been impressed with animal magic ever since an assembly in the second grade when a man brought his horse to our school. The man would rattle off a math problem such as, “What’s 6 plus 2 minus 3 plus 5 divided by two?” And the horse would stamp the ground with his hoof five times and all us kids would stand there with our eyes wide open, very impressed! Naturally, we didn’t know if the horse was correct because we were not quite at the horse’s level in higher mathematics yet. The lesson the teachers were attempting to impart to us was that if a horse could figure out such a complex equation, certainly there was hope for us kids. Although, that’s not the message I took away from the exercise. I remember my impression being that I didn’t need to learn math because when I grew up I was going to have a horse.
I just figured the horse was so smart because he never had to go to school and fill his brain with all sorts of useless stuff. Which brings me to my subject… idiotic pet tricks. I’ll admit that I am envious of anyone who can teach their pet to do tricks. Of course, I did finally grow up and get a horse but the only trick I was able to teach it was to sleep standing up. I bought a talking bird once who never spoke another word after it left the store and one of my dogs rolled over when I said “speak.” This was the same animal I taught to retrieve by throwing a red rubber ball in hopes it would be a bird dog. It might have worked out fine if I was shooting red rubber balls but this dog wouldn’t hunt. It was afraid of anything that had feathers and flew. I had high hopes of turning my last dog into a sheep-herding machine. I trained her as a pup on ducks, which is a common practice, and sure enough when Aussie got older she was a Grand Champion duck herder. But sheep intimidated her. The only trick my dog ever did was have puppies, which was quite a feat because we thought we had her fixed!
A person has to be really insecure to teach their pets stupid tricks just to impress their smug friends with their overachieving pets. And for what? People get a watch dog and immediately teach it to shake hands, roll over and play dead. I submit that these are not admirable traits for a watch dog! Or, they teach a dog to beg. BIG DEAL! Begging comes naturally to most dogs anyway. Give me a dog who performs useful tricks: Like fetching the neighbor’s newspaper on a Sunday morning.
I’ll admit there was one dog that made me jealous of its owner. One day many years ago I was fixing fence with Todd, the manger of the ranch next door. It was a hot day and Todd asked if I wanted a beer. I answered in the affirmative, requesting my favorite brand, Coors. I swear on my honor Todd told his dog to go to the refrigerator and fetch me a Colorado Kool Aid. Mind you, I did not laugh because I already knew Todd’s dog could do things that I couldn’t, like catch a frisbee and scratch his head with his foot. But fetching a beer, now this would be a real trick indeed!
Sure enough, Todd had taught his dog to go to a small refrigerator in an old dairy barn, open the door, grab a cold can without getting slobber on the top, and retrieve it. Please keep in mind that dogs are color blind and do not have opposable thumbs! This was the most useful dog I’d ever seen. “Surely” I said, “this is some kind of magic.”
Nope. Todd asked what other kind of beer I wanted and I said that I’d have a Bud. I believe he would have retrieved pretzels and beer nuts had I asked. The only beer that dog couldn’t come back with was a Mexican brand because Todd was all out and I doubt the liquor store would have sold the dog any without an ID. Maybe they would have, who knows?
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Being an amateur animal trainer myself, I thought I’d teach my pets a couple of these useful tricks to really impress my friends. I ended up with a numerically challenged horse and a dog that likes to drink beer.