“The Test,” Friend, June 1985, 42
Perry was riding his bicycle past the old Bennett place when he saw a sign that read: RANGEVIEW KENNELS.
On a small board underneath it he read: SUMMER HELP WANTED. Parking his bike beside the driveway, Perry walked past the white frame house and down a dirt path to the kennel.
All the dogs were golden retrievers. They had long, silky hair that ranged from cream color to honey blond. They raced up and down their pens, wagging their tails.
“Good morning,” a man greeted Perry. The man was on his knees, brushing a dog’s wavy coat. “I’m Roy Luther.”
“I’m Perry Marshall. I’d like to help you this summer, sir.”
“You’re kind of young, aren’t you?”
“I’m ten.” Perry stood up straighter. “I can clean the runs, groom and exercise the dogs, or do whatever you need done.”
The man seemed to be thinking it over. “Why do you want to help me? I can’t hire you as a regular worker, you know, because you’re too young.”
“Yes sir, I understand. But I’m going to be a veterinarian when I grow up,” Perry explained, “so I’d like to learn as much as I can now.”
“I see.” Mr. Luther stopped brushing the dog and stood up. “Tell you what. I’ll give you a little test to see how you do with one of our dogs.”
“That sounds fair,” said Perry. “What’s the test?”
Mr. Luther lifted a pup from one of the pens and placed it at Perry’s feet. “This is Amber. She hasn’t had any training. Take her over there behind the kennels and see what you can teach her. Here’s a leash.”
“Thanks, Mr. Luther.” Perry snapped the leash onto Amber’s collar. The pup began to jump up and down against his knees like a yoyo.
“Take it easy, girl.” Perry led her into the field and up a hill behind the kennels’ buildings. For a while he just stroked Amber and played with her. The books that he had read explained that a trainer must win the dog’s trust and affection before he could begin to teach it obedience.
When Amber had calmed down, Perry unhooked the leash and said, “Sit.” He spoke firmly, pushing at the same time on the puppy’s hindquarters. “Sit.”
Over and over Perry repeated the word as he gently pushed. Amber sniffed the grass and then sniffed the boy. “Sit.” Amber cocked her head and stared at Perry. Suddenly she lunged at his face, licking it all over.
“No,” Perry said sternly. “Sit.”
Amber soon grew bored with the “game” and trotted off across the field to explore. Perry let her go. When he finally called, she came bounding back to him like a tumbleweed propelled by the wind.
“Sit.” Amber just wagged her tail. So Perry decided to try a different command. “Shake.” Taking Amber’s right paw in his right hand, he slowly moved it up and down. “Shake.” Again and again he repeated the word and the motion.
Once, when Perry held her paw too long, Amber lost her balance and toppled over. Perry collapsed in the tall grass and laughed. When he sat up, he saw Mr. Luther watching from a distance. It was time to teach this pup something. Anything.
It was no use. Each time Perry lifted her paw, Amber licked his hand. He went back to “Sit.”
The sun was straight overhead when Mr. Luther strode up the hill. “How’s it coming, son?”
“Fine, sir. Just fine.”
As soon as Mr. Luther had gone away, Perry said, “Let’s take a break, Amber.” This was hard work, much harder than he had expected.
After a short rest, Perry moved to a spot farther from the other dogs. Perhaps their barking was distracting the puppy.
“Amber! Come here, girl! Let’s get back to work.”
Perry’s shirt was starting to cling to his back in the heat. Still, he persisted. “Sit,” he said, pushing gently but firmly on Amber’s hindquarters.
The pup rolled over in the grass, waving her paws in the air. When she got up and started to chase her tail, Perry knew that it was time to end the lesson. Sighing, he stood up and hooked the leash back onto her collar. “Come on, girl.”
While the dog frisked about him, Perry walked slowly toward the kennel office, trying to figure out what to say to Mr. Luther. It had seemed like such a simple test. How could he ever hope to be a vet if he couldn’t even teach a dog to sit?
“How’d you do, Perry?”
“I didn’t have any luck at all, Mr. Luther. I tried, but I couldn’t teach this pup anything. Not one thing.”
“You know, Perry, some dogs learn fast, but others need more time. I can show you a few pointers that might help with Amber. Can you come tomorrow morning at nine?”
“Sure I can! But I don’t understand, sir. I failed the test.”
Mr. Luther smiled. “You didn’t fail the test, Perry. I saw how you handled Amber. You never hit her. You never even raised your voice. That shows a lot of patience, and patience always wins in the end. I reckon you’ll be a big help to me this summer.”