Barnaby User Manual

As of yesterday, I am once again at a new address–In New Haven, CT!  I’m about to embark on a year of study in order to earn a Master of Sacred Theology degree.  I live in a wonderful old house near the campus, with fantastic roommates and hardwood floors, and there is but one hitch in this fabulous housing arrangement: the no pet policy.

So Barnaby is living with the pastor of a nearby church and his family of four, who are wonderful people who will clearly spoil Barnaby rotten in this year, giving him lots of logs and belly rubs and patiently enduring his tail-thwaps of joy.

To ease the transition for the humans, I wrote them a four-page document about some of Barnaby’s quirks and habits.  I thought you might enjoy perusing a few excerpts here.

photo(5)Barnaby User Manual

Barnaby knows the following basic commands:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Off
  • Come
  • Stay
  • Paw
  • Other Paw

About the commands:

  • Sit. I’ve trained Barnaby to respond to “sit” by barking three times, spinning around in a circle, and then fetching my copy of the Book of Concord and flipping open to Article IV of the Augsburg Confession. I’m just kidding. I trained him to sit.
  • Down. This is short for “lay down.” Sometimes Barnaby is lazy, and interprets this as “Sit.” I find that prolonged eye contact and a raised eyebrow will usually have him sliding sullenly into a proper “Down” position in no time.
  • Off. This is for getting Barnaby off the furniture.
    • Barnaby knows that furniture is generally off-limits.
    • However, Barnaby believes that this off-limits rule really only actually applies when you, his human, are a) present, b) conscious, and c) unpersuaded by his cutest sad face.
    • Note that using “Down” to get Barnaby off the furniture will actually just make him lay down on the furniture. He’s surprisingly good at remembering what “Down” means when you use it in the wrong context.
  • Come. Barnaby knows what this means. He really, really, does. And he knows that you mean it. It’s just that he also thinks that it can be executed really, really slowly, with time built in for bathroom breaks and sniffing things.
    • Tip: He magically becomes 10 times better at “Come” when wearing his training collar.
  • Stay. He will stay where you put him. Unless there is a squirrel. Squirrels trump all.
  • Paw. He will give you his paw!
  • Other Paw. He will give you his other paw! But be aware that at this point, he will be so excited at having remembered what “paw” means that this maneuver will be less like a handshake and more like a really enthusiastic swat. In fact, he may accidentally punch you. He’s sorry.

Barnaby also knows a handy slew of other commands, appropriate for situations loosely grouped into the following categories: Walkies, Foodles, Play, Not-Play, and Bedtime.


  • Barnaby loves walks! It’s his bonding time with you. Walked regularly, I’ve found that he’s not only calmer, but a lot better behaved. For walks, you really need to know only one command: Heel.
    • My definition of heeling means that Barnaby’s shoulder is level with my hip and walking with no tension in the leash. Barnaby’s definition of heeling is waiting until the leash is slack, and then edging forward as far as he can until he feels like he’s leading the way. The upshot of this is that most people think that Barnaby is really, really good at heeling because he doesn’t walk all the way at the end of the leash and actually appears to care that you’re attached to him. But don’t be deceived—Barnaby is average at heeling, it’s just that he’s never been allowed to have full slack on the leash and is overwhelmed by the possibilities when he does.
  • Other dogs. I’ve discovered that Barnaby has four speeds when it comes to other dogs:
    • Totally blasé. As long as he’s occupied with something else (i.e.: walks/fetch), Barnaby doesn’t care about other dogs. For example, if you would like to take him to the dog park, you will find that he only pays attention to other dogs for as long as it is until he finds a stick and convinces someone (it needn’t be you) to throw it for him.
    • Mildly confused. This is the speed you will see before Barnaby finds the stick. He will acknowledge other dogs, even sniff them, but appears to be deeply confounded by their attempts to get him to play.
    • Adorably playful. This only happens with dogs that Barnaby has gotten to know. He has a very good memory for dogs in this category, and when he sees them, he’ll be really excited about it.
    • Vin Diesel action movie. Precipitating incidents have historically included: a foreign dog crossing into Barnaby’s territory; a dog snapping at Barnaby first; a dog trying to boss Barnaby around in close quarters. There was also a greyhound in my old neighborhood that Barnaby consistently found objectionable, despite multiple reconciliation attempts, so I’m forced to add “looking at him in a funny way” to the list.
  • Other people. Barnaby adores other people, and will happily greet them for you. I tend to warn people that his tail is a blunt instrument of joy.


  • I feed Barnaby 2 cups of food, twice a day. I usually mix something into it to make it more tempting: a tablespoon of olive oil/peanut oil, or a ¼ c. of broth or milk. Or yogurt, or gravy, or cottage cheese. Or, you know, whatever leftover in my fridge is about to expire. He’s really very flexible.
  • Barnaby won’t always finish his food, and this is totally fine. We just learned this summer that eating all his food, all the time, actually makes Barnaby overweight. (He only did it this summer because he was living with another dog who would eat any food he dared to leave behind.) Sometimes he won’t eat his breakfast until around dinnertime, in which case I skip his dinner.
  • A confession: Barnaby is the prewash setting for my dishwasher. You are under no obligation to continue this habit, but if you feel like having him pre-wash your dishware, he’s very efficient and surprisingly gentle with glassware.
  • If you are in the room or just out of the room, whatever food you leave in Barnaby’s reach is entirely safe as long as you command him to “leave it.”
  • If you leave the house, any food reachable to a 90 103 lb. large canine is fair game. Sorry. I haven’t figured out how to fix this yet.
  • Should Barnaby accidentally imbibe something that dogs aren’t supposed to eat, like chocolate or raisins, don’t worry about it unless it’s a really obscene amount, or he’s in distress. Barnaby has eaten an entire Advent calendar and a partial box of raisins with no noticeable effects.
  • Treats: I don’t usually treat Barnaby, with the exception of right before bed, but I don’t mind if you do! Remind him to be “gentle” when taking treats from your hand. Make sure to count your fingers afterward.


Barnaby loves indoor and outdoor play. Here are some commands you might find helpful while playing:

  • Go get it. For balls, sticks, Frisbees, and logs. Barnaby does know how to fetch, and it’s one of his very favorite games in the whole world, second only to “pretending to play fetch while actually using the opportunity to sniff every single blade of grass and fallen leaf in the entire yard while you stand there and watch me.” So sometimes he needs reminding about priorities. Hence this command.
  • Drop it. On the other hand, sometimes Barnaby is so very into his fetch game that he forgets the part about dropping the ball/stick/log/Frisbeee so you can throw it again. Hence this command. 
  • Leave it. This is an important command for when Barnaby develops tunnel vision about fetch, and becomes so focused on getting that ball/stick/log/Frisbee back in his mouth that he will try to regain custody while you’re picking up the ball. “Leave it” reminds him that your hand is not a dispensable prop in this game, and he needs to wait, and respect the unassailable right of your fingers to be attached to your hand.
  • Digging. Barnaby really loves to drop his stick and then dig joyfully at it. You will never see a happier expression on his face. You will also be amazed at how quickly that hole gets deep. I’d suggested only letting him indulge in areas of your lawn that you need cleared of sod and/or weeds and/or plantings and/or small trees and shrubs.


Some tips for hanging out with Barnaby:

  • Beware of putting drinks on level with his tail. His tail has no sense of personal space, nor regard for the fullness of your beverage cup.
    • This advice also goes for food, knick-knacks, and small children.
  • Barnaby occasionally has something I have dubbed “crack hour.” This is a moment, usually after dark, when out of nowhere he will start racing through your house at top speed, stopping only to turn in several rapid circles before tearing off again. You will alternately laugh and be afraid, but don’t worry—he’s not possessed, and it does wear off.
  • Bed. Upon hearing this command after 9pm, Barnaby will immediately drop whatever he’s doing and trot happily to the bedroom. Sometimes he will not wait for the command, and you should in this case be aware that black dogs are hard to see when they’re snoozing on the carpet in your dark bedroom. (Note: whatever bedroom Barnaby sleeps in becomes HIS bedroom, and he will be impossible to relocate. You’d also better not plan on having other dogs in there, because it’s HIS bedroom. Oh, you thought it was yours? Sorry. WRONG.)IMG_0072



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