This Holiday Season, Here is Our Grift to You

Seems we have developed a bit of a problem. My loving, sweet, social butterfly Blue has never been the brightest bulb in the pack. But he’s not exactly stupid either. Which is probably why he’s been able to fly under the radar for so long.

Girly Girl is the smart one in the family. However, Blue has learned one trick. Down. I taught him this amazing feat of skill using a clicker and food rewards. Only I never really got around to fading out the treat. I hope you are all paying attention, since this is an object lesson for greyhound owners far and near. Finish the job.

Instead, whenever it is time to dispense treats or dinner, I ask for a down. And down he goes like a lead balloon. Like the Titanic. Like the stock market last year. You get the idea. Thus, I have solidified in his mind downtreat. Treatdown. Fooddown. Downfooddinnerdown.

OK, so I’m lazy and a bad dog trainer. My dog knows one trick and he fully expects to be compensated for it. Except I didn’t realize I had a smooth criminal living with me. At first I thought what he was doing was cute. I thought he was being friendly and outgoing and social. I was very proud of my big boy. I thought it so clever that he could do a trick for dog treats. Then, as I really started watching him, I realized he was working each victim over and over again. He had a plan and he employed it the same way each time, in each store. And everyone fell for it. Every time. I had a master manipulator on my hands. I was living under the same roof with a professional grifter.

Maine is a very dog friendly state. We are lucky to have a lot of pet stores, both small independent and big chain. We have a list of our favorites and sometimes during the week, I’ll take the dogs to one or another to stave off cabin fever since we work at home.

Blue carries a mental map of each pet store. He knows from the time we are within a mile or two of the parking lot which store we’re headed to. He knows where the treat bar is located. He knows where the registers are. He also knows where, at the register, the doggy treat bowl is located. His favorites are the treat “buffets” at the chain stores. When we get near one, he’ll commandeer the first store employee he can find and he’ll lean on him/her. Then he’ll saunter over to the buffet and, since he’s tall enough to rest his head on the counter, but not quite tall enough to reach into the treat bins, he’ll rest his head on the buffet and sniff.

Blue has big floppy cheeks and he uses these to his best effect. When he sniffs, he looks and sounds something like a horse snorting. His cheeks go in and out like a spoiled child after a crying jag. It’s much exaggerated and at the end he blows out a big long sigh making his cheeks flap back and forth (with the aforementioned horse noises).

Then he turns, with a quick knowing glance at me, and gives the employee big greyhound eyes, does a little prance and drops to his down position. If that doesn’t work. He jumps up, head on buffet. Looks down at tasty treats. Maybe a little drool. Sniff. Drops to down position. Looks up at employee. This ALWAYS gets him a cookie. He’ll work that angle until I stop giving the employee permission to give him cookies, or until the employee stops the flow of treats out of concern for his or her job or that quarters profits.

At that point, Blue develops a sudden interest in checking out.

He has two strategies at the check out counter. He invariably starts by deploying his “Sing for Your Supper” scam. Here he attempts to induce the employee manning the register to believe that he is either A) an actual store employee and thus, it is OK to give him unfettered access to treats or B) willing to work by assisting with check out operations such as bagging, money counting or merchandise inspection in exchange for biscuits. To accomplish this he deftly steps behind the counter, joins the employee at the register and begins his attempt to assist with various tasks. He pokes his nose into bags, sniffs customer merchandise, sniffs money as it is handed over and generally makes a nuisance of himself. Employees find this so endearing that they throw handfuls of treats into his open gob. When the flow of treats begins to slow down from that side of the counter, Blue steps back around and rejoins his Mumma in line.

He now employs the Hail Mary Play. He has worked the employees in the store and at the doggie buffet. He has already worked the employee at the register. However, there are two sides to that check-out counter and by dog he’s going to make sure he has squeezed every last treat possible out the store before we exit. Here he again employs the head on the counter and the Mr. Ed sniff. That usually will get him a treat or two. But the main component of the Hail Mary Play is simply a repeated series of downs. The downs themselves are not special. But add in that the big giant goofy white and gray hound is willing to set the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of downs completed at a check out counter in a pet store all the while staring at you unblinkingly with amazing amber eyes and generally Blue can induce any register operator to pour the remainder of the treat bucket directly into his waiting gullet.

Having thus accomplished his mission he contentedly waits for Mumma to finish paying for her purchase. We head out of the store the kids have a quick sniff and a pee and I load them into the car. Blue stands at the edge of the seat and waits, staring at me. “What?!” I say. But I know what he’s waiting for. He wants one of the treats I’ve just purchased in the store.

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