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Swift: Call of the meek and mild

My mother drew on an arsenal of voices to raise us. There was the "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home" voice. Or the "Be Quiet, Father John Can Hear You," stage-whisper. Or a personal favorite: "The Sweet-as-Pie Telephone Voice, Which Hopefully Masq...

Tammy Swift

My mother drew on an arsenal of voices to raise us.

There was the "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home" voice. Or the "Be Quiet, Father John Can Hear You," stage-whisper. Or a personal favorite: "The Sweet-as-Pie Telephone Voice, Which Hopefully Masquerades That I was Just Screaming at the Kids."

Likewise, I've noticed Irwin and I have developed our own voice-cabulary for dealing with our dogs. After all, even if your pooch doesn't understand anything beyond "food" or "bath," he is acutely attuned to our vocal expressions. Here are a few examples from our own dog house:

  • The "Don't Make Me Put My Pants On and Come Out There" call. This is what Irwin resorts to when Jake has treed a squirrel at 4 a.m. and is on a barking jag that threatens to continue until the squirrel dies of old age. At this point, Irwin is furious. His mood isn't helped by the fact he stubbed his toe on the vacuum cleaner on his way to the front door.

    He will stand on the front steps and utter one word - "Jake" - with a Dirty Harry calm. Even the squirrel will be impressed. And Jake will trudge to the door, tail between legs.

  • The "I Know I Should Discipline You But I Wuv You So Much" call. Irwin frequently uses this one whenever Jake does something adorably lunkheaded. Like stealing a turkey carcass from the garbage and eating the whole thing. Or getting his head stuck in a pail. Or chasing after a good-looking girl dog. It's as if he's secretly proud that his dog acts like a reckless lumberjack. And so he'll chastise Jake in a tone that fools no one. Hands on hips, he'll stand there and feign anger, which inadvertently lapses into baby talk.

    Jake will gaze up at him adoringly, tail wagging. It's like watching two drinking buddies.

  • The "Even I Don't Believe You'll Come to Me" call: As embarrassing as it is to admit this, there are times when your dog won't come to you. Either his prey drive has kicked in and he's chasing a jackrabbit through the woods or his favorite mail lady - the one who doles out Beggin' Strips - is in the driveway. At times like these, even you don't know why you're yelling. You're like the dinghy who has been dispatched to throw a pail of water on a fire aboard an oil freighter.

    It's hopeless and pointless. But you are the dog owner, and you have to pretend to do something.

  • The "Everybody Wang-Chung Tonight" call. Early on, when I first got Kita as a pomapoo puppy, I bought a book on training toy breeds. The author wisely wrote that, after years of being dressed in doll tutus and fed liver pâté on their owners' wedding china, many toy dogs have lost the instinct to follow the alpha dog. Instead, they will only learn to come to you if you make it worth their while. In short, you have to sound like they are missing out on the party of the century.

    Ever since then, I have called Kita with an over-the-top exuberance that borders on hysteria.

    I will adopt a girlishly high-pitched voice and squeal for her as if I'm a pre-teen girl inviting her BFF to the Biggest! Justin! Bieber! Concert! Ever!

    It works every time. Although I've endured much public humiliation by doing so, Kita always responds. She races toward me as fast as her stumpy, little legs will carry her.

    Never mind that, once she arrives, there's not much going on. There's no room filled with miniature fire hydrants or cute male Chihuahuas or Milk Bone-stuffed piñatas. But Kita never seems to remember that.

    And for this I am eternally grateful.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525

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