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I wonder whether anyone has experience they’d like to share in using Lassie movies as training devices for their own pooch. I am still learning to distinguish which of Sadie’s many barks means variously:

1. I have to go potty.

2. I *really* have to go potty!

3. I *really* have to go BIG potty!

4. I don’t really have to go potty and I really am bored and so maybe you’ll take me out to go potty so that I can: 

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3a. Find a poison mushroom to inhale before I even notice it’s there

3b. Bark at anything out of place such as a fallen leaf

3c. Pretend to be docile and then try to dislocate my shoulder when she sees a mosquito float by. Or a leaf. Or a hallucination. 

On the other hand, Lassie is capable of communicating with cunning, compassion, and coherence with the adults in her life. I grant you that theoretically, it might be that the adults on the show are much cleverer than I am. It’s a reasonable hypothesis, but no…if I had abandoned mine shafts and unused wells all over my farm, I’d make damn sure any kids knew they were not to go there! And, I wouldn’t cover over an unused well hole with a couple of loose two by fours either. For that and other tedious reasons, I don’t think the genius in the Lassie family lies with the humans. It is Lassie who has the title role and she is the one with outstanding skills. 

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Witness episode N+1:

Lassie gallops into the kitchen and skids to a stop right beside Gramps and barks:

“ARF! ARF!” 

“What’s that Lassie? What is it, girl?” 


“What? Something’s wrong with the roof?”

“BOW! WOW!” 

“I will not! Anyway, I already fed you.” 

Lassie, noticeably frustrated, circles twice and grabs a can-opener in her muzzle, sprints to the liquor cabinet and begins banging the can-opener into the lock. 

“What? You’re trying to jimmy the lock open? You want a drink?”

Lassie grabs one ear with her paw and barks.

“Oh! Sounds like ‘jimmy’! Oh! Let’s see…’Kimmy’, ‘dimmy’, ‘Limmy’, I don’t know girl. There aren’t many words that rhyme with ‘jimmy.’”

Lassie barks: “ARF! ARF!”

“Lassie, are you sick or something girl?” 

Immediately, Lassie springs into the air and does a somersault onto her back and waves all four paws in the air. 

Gramps muses aloud. “The opposite of sick. Healthy? Something is healthy? No? Hale? Fine Fettle? Hardy?”

For each guess, Lassie barks a sharp short “No!” 

Gramps frowns and says, “Well, I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Lassie. I’ve got to get back to carving my pipe here.” 

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Lassie stands on her hind two legs and begins using ASL with her two front paws. However, she quickly notes the looks of bewilderment on the visage of Gramps and she rightly concludes that he still doesn’t know ASL, despite her admonitions. So, she begins again with the barking: “ARF! ARF!” 

Gramps says, “You’re not making any sense, Lassie. Timmy wouldn’t fall down a well. Why would he?”


Gramps frowns and tilts his head so fast he pulls his sternocleidomastoid. “What? He fell down the well just last week? No, he didn’t. That was two weeks ago. Last week, Timmy fell down an old mineshaft. Oh! Wait! Are you trying to tell me that Timmy fell down a well again!? Oh, no! Why didn’t you tell me?” 

Needless to say, Gramps calls the sheriff and after he arrives Gramps explains. The sheriff draws his gun and charges out toward one of the 17 abandoned wells at Gramps’s place. But Lassie begins barking — again!

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The sheriff glares at Gramps and uses his best shoulder shrugging head tilt as though to say, “Well? You going to shut up the mutt or am I?” 

Gramps scratches several places; for instance, behind his ear. Then he says, “Lassie is simply pointing out that while a gun won’t help get Timmy out of the well, a long rope might.” 

“I knew that!” The sheriff speaks in a huff while Lassie merely rolls her eyes and winks at Gramps. Then, off Lassie scampers to the tool shed, picks the lock with a handy nearby roofing nail, nudges the door open, and scampers back with a long loop of strong rope. 

Soon, she leads them to one of the many abandoned wells. By the time Gramps and Sheriff catch up, Lassie has tied a loose bowline one one end of the rope and two half hitches around a sturdy nearby oak stump, tosses the bowline down to Timmy, and barks her orders to him. Gramps and Sheriff pull on the rope, and soon enough, Timmy, cold and wet but alive, politely thanks Sheriff and Gramps for pulling him out and then throws his skinny arms around Lassie. “Oh, Lassie! Thanks, girl, for saving me! You were right! I shouldn’t have tried to walk across the well on those rotten planks after all!”

Lassie merely rolls her eyes. 


I’m not saying that if Sadie watched any one episode that she’d learn every skill all at once, but  over time, it might help. Right?

Assuming, of course, that I can ever get her to notice anything on the TV screen. I’m thinking of smearing bacon grease around the edges.

(Shadow says: “I’ll save Timmy!”)

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