The first dog I ever owned was Taz, a shorthaired, dingo-like medium male
mutt with a handsome face and intelligent eyes. I had been married ten years,
and had an eight-year-old daughter. We bought our first house in the San
Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles , a ranch-style 3 bedroom with a big yard.
At our housewarming party, as is customary in friendly circles, someone gave
us a six month old pup saved from the pound. Taz.
Taz had no obvious bad habits. No biting, peeing or pooping in the house. He
chewed a couple sofas, that was it. However, Taz always was a bit leery of
our family. My wife Cindi is outgoing, always on-the-run show biz exec, never
much of a pet person. A dog was just another item any decent house must have,
much like a nice china buffet or a wide-screen TV. It’s not that she was mean
to him, they just didn’t connect. I think dog food grossed my wife out, so I
was the one who fed him. You can imagine who picked up poop.
I loved to scratch Taz’s ears and he was affectionate towards me. But, if
such a thing was possible, Taz seemed a bit bored by my company. Like he was
really way too smart and he had to suffer this fool because I was human and
had a house and fed him and walked him. I just thought I was incredibly
insecure, imagining things about my dog that could not be true.
My 8-year old daughter Chloe was into her own world of reading and
imagination. She loved Taz a lot, but her promise to walk the dog every day
soon got old as Taz would pull on the leash so hard that she would either
have to let go or get dragged along the ground.
So the chore of feeding, walking and training Taz fell to me. I guess I made
every mistake in the book. On my daily walks with Taz he pulled the leash. I
let him pull, in fact, I would take him to one of my favorite hiking trails
nearby — one that was mostly uphill for the first mile, and let Taz drag me
like a one-dog mush team to the top. I was lazy, Taz was exhausted, but
triumphant. He was the leader of the pack and I was the alpha dog. Beta
really. I think this was the problem. I never established myself as the
leader of the pack. I was just this competing male Taz wanted to get away
What I should have done first of all was train him to sit quietly and
patiently in the house while I attached the leash. If he pulled, I should
have just sat down and waited until he calmed down and stopped. Then, instead
of heading toward the door, I should have walked him with a loose leash
around the house. Finally, we should have practiced sitting at the door,
leash loose, until I gave the command to walk out. But I was too ignorant and
busy to train him properly, I take all the blame!
Luckily, Taz came to us already house trained, so this was never the problem.
In fact he loved the yard a lot, exploring every corner. I was relieved at
first, proud that I had a yard large enough for him to explore and stretch
his legs. In fact, everything was hunky-dory until one day I spotted Taz
through the living room window sprinting away down the street. A whole year
of prison-breaks had begun.
I would usually jump into my car and give chase. Taz would spot me and deftly
bolt through traffic and into adjoining neighborhoods. Usually I would lose
him around a corner. A few hours later, however, I would inevitably get a
phone call. We had luckily always had a dog tag with our phone number around
his neck. Every person would describe a scratching at the door, and Taz would
invite himself in and make himself at home.
I went about sealing every possible escape route from my yard. I then had Taz
neutered, which someone said was the possible reason for his wanderlust the
smell of females. Despite all this Taz would escape again and again, and
within hours I would receive the customary phone call. Everyone loved Taz,
and I got to know a lot of people in a one-mile radius from my house.
Taz seemed to gravitate to one neighbor in particular who lived at the end of
a cul-de-sac by the freeway. The middle-aged husband and wife had three other
dogs. The husband was this surly unshaven kind of guy with a big potbelly who
wore ill-fitting white t-shirts. The wife was friendly enough, understood,
but I could tell the lumpy husband was none too pleased by Taz’s frequent
Finally one day, I glanced into the backyard and witnessed Taz deftly
climbing a 6-foot tall wall covered with ivy and jumping over the fence. I
could not believe my eyes. The dog was part monkey. Someone suggested an
electric fence but I balked. I was not running a damn prison. I didn’t want
to leave him tied up all day. I didn’t know what to do but keep Taz in the
However, soon even that strategy failed. Taz would slyly wait until one of us
would open the door and bolt out at full clip, headed for freedom, like Steve
McQueen on a motorcycle escaping the POW camp. Soon we would open the door
just wide enough for us to slide through and close it quickly when entering
and leaving the house. We felt like snakes.
This seemed to work for a while until one midnight the burglar alarm went off.
We were terrified. The backyard French doors were open. I was about to dial
911 when I noticed Taz climbing the rear fence faster than doggedly possible.
I suddenly realized Taz had opened the door himself and escaped.
I installed dead bolts in the doors, and all was well for a few weeks until a
house guest who was a chain smoker stayed with us. As you might guess, at two
a.m. he went out back for a smoke — another escape opportunity for Taz.
I was awakened at 3:00 am by a phone call: the cul-de-sac freeway neighbors
were calling. The more friendly wife said Taz had scratched at their door,
woke them up, come in, snuggled in bed with them and fallen fast asleep. I
could come by in the morning to pick him up
The next morning I sheepishly arrive in my car and opened the hatch. The
lumpy t-shirt guy came out arms folded and promptly began loudly berating me:
“You’re a child! You’re a child! You can’t control your own dog. What’s wrong
with you? Have you thought about what is wrong with YOU?”
I begged for mercy, and finally was saved by the wife who brought Taz out. I
stuffed Taz in back and vowed to never have this happen again.
It just so happened that we were going camping the following weekend, and a
good friend of my wife who was an actress and dog trainer on the side vowed
to cure Taz of his bad habits. She moved in for a few days with her own
little black terrier, and soon I was bedazzled by the site of Taz dutifully
following orders, sitting, following, stopping (no fetching, the actress
thought that too demeaning). Taz stopped running away. I was amazed. She
vowed by the time we returned from our camping trip we would have a brand new
It was on our way home that we got a call that Taz had escaped once again.
This time he was at the dog pound. I walked down the long, depressing row of
cages and found Taz, looking awfully glad to see me.
The actress had helped; Taz was better for a few weeks, until one day he
slipped out the door when I was taking out the trash and sprinted toward the
dreaded cul-de-sac. This time I didn’t even bother to follow.
Shortly afterward I got a phone call from the cul-de-sac wife. Look, said the
woman with all the kindness she could muster, we really love Taz. He sleeps
with us in our bed. He gets along great with our other three dogs, and our
roommate, a single woman, wants to walk him everyday. What do you say you let
us adopt him, no questions asked?
I talked it over with Cindi and Chloe, and at first their natural
possessiveness kicked in, as did mine. But I argued, maybe Taz liked it
better at the cul-de-sac. Maybe we never were the right family for Taz. We
all felt very sad, but finally we all agreed.
In fact I would often see Taz walking with the single woman, looking content.
Every now and then I’d see them on that steep hiking trail (not pulling the
leash) and Taz would lick me in recognition. As the years went by I saw him
less and less, and even once on the trail Taz did not seem to remember me.
If this seems like a bittersweet ending, it is. I wish I had known what I
know now about dog training. But ultimately, Taz was happier with that family,
and although I alone take the blame, I also am grateful to have known Taz —
and the lessons he taught me about myself