The Story of Orson

Devon and I were rarely where we were supposed to be. He herded sheep the way he herded school buses - forcefully, impulsively, explosively. At least the sheep could run.

This role-playing was not the sort of thing either of us was especially good at. I was allergic to being lectured to, had hated just about every class and teacher I'd ever had, and the favor had been returned. Poor Mr. Hauser actually wept in front of my mother when I had to take his math class for the third time. Neither of us could bear the idea of going another round. Authority issues continued to plague me through my adult life. One reason that being a writer suited me was that most of the time the only jerk I had to put up with was me.

Devon had similar issues with commands and obedience. Training seemed to either upset or excite him, and learning to herd sheep seemed unlikely to be an exception.

"You are a ewe," Carolyn told me, pointing to an O on her diagram, and placing one of her tiny white plastic sheep along a toy fence. "You will stand over here and wait to be approached by a dog," she said, gesturing to an eighty-year-old woman in a sun hat holding a terrified sheltie on a leash.

Everybody else seemed willing, even enthusiastic, about acting out these herding moves. But I didn't want to be a ewe. Devon looked up at me curiously; I knew there was no way he was going to do this, either.

In fact, he suddenly charged after the sheltie, chasing him under Carolyn's truck. I pulled him back, made him lie down, and he settled to watch the proceedings.

As Carolyn passed by, dispensing instructions, I whispered - hoping to avoid a scene - that I didn't want to be a ewe, or to play this game. Carolyn did not suffer fools or rebels gladly. "I don't care what you want," she muttered. "Do it. It will be good for you."

I couldn't. No better at being submissive than this strange dog I now owned, I told Carolyn this wasn't the right class for me. Devon and I retreated to our room (Carolyn's Raspberry Ridge Farm is a bed-and-breakfast as well as a training center) to brood. I put Devon in his crate and lay down on the bed. Outside the window, I could hear the "dogs" and "sheep" going through their exercises as Carolyn offered suggestions and critiqued the proceedings.

Much as I often wished for a more pliant dog, I also wished I were a more compliant human. Life would be smoother.

from A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz

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