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The Yankee Express

Luke Bucks A Family Rule

By Amy LeClaire

Initially, I thought Luke was being headstrong when he bucked our table manner system, a system he supported early on (two years ago to be exact). The memory of his squat, fluffy body perched at his spot still makes me smile. Luke was a pup with a thirst for learning and he adored our training sessions. “Good boy, Luke!” At nine weeks old, he appeared too little to understand rules. Yet there he sat, a teddy bear with a big head, and even bigger brain. I couldn’t help but brag. 
“Not to toot my own horn, but Luke responds so well to my training. I think he’s my smartest puppy yet.” A tiny, pink smile broke free from Luke’s concentration. “Aren’t you so happy you picked me, Momma?” 
I truly was. 
Time passed, old habits softened, and Luke became a confident young dog who approached his teens with a fair amount of bravado. The blonde hair on his chest grew long and silky, wheat blowing in the wind, and his body filled out to match his leonine head. He learned the benefits of begging while I handed him pieces of banana from the countertop. Consistency is key when it comes to dog training. Therefore, it’s possible that I’m to blame for the story to come. 
“Luke! It’s okay. It’s just your old spot,” I reminded on that peculiar day in January. The catchphrase “New Year, New Luke” announced itself during a family lunch. I stared in disbelief at a newly minted Luke. My son, Ben, muscular and brotherly, had grabbed him by the collar to coax him back to his spot. Yet a simple tug somehow turned into a bizarre power struggle. What was wrong? Luke had put on his brakes and trembled with a fear that makes me shudder, even in retrospect. “I’m-not-going-there.” Tail fastened between legs; he shook as though we had just placed him in solitary confinement with King Kong. What was happening? Was Luke suddenly afraid of his brother? 
“What’s the matter, Luke?” We cajoled him with baby-talk. “Look at Luke’s spot! It’s so comfy!” But he wrestled out of Ben’s grip and dashed to his bed in the dining room where he sat, stoic and determined. “I’m going to choose my own spot from now on.” I stood dumbfounded with a slab of meat, a reward that did nothing to motivate him. Instead, he rested his head over his paws and sulked. “I don’t need to stay at that dumb spot anymore. I’m over it.”  
We speculated. Had a kitchen chair inadvertently fallen over on Luke during his puppyhood to traumatize him? Or was his choice to ditch the spot prouder, perhaps even territorial? -- “I’m not answering to my big brother. He thinks he’s the boss. Well, I’m the boss of myself.” 
I came to learn that Luke’s decision was rooted in something even more remarkable. Nevertheless, we needed to rule out sibling rivalry. My husband and I encouraged Luke to sit at his spot to see if he would comply with us, and not Ben. “Go ahead,” we gestured. “Sit at your spot, Luke.” The same behavior resumed. He trembled. He retracted. He dashed back to his bed. One time he even popped onto the rug at the front door. “I’m picking my own spot.” Not only did Luke insist on choosing his own spot, but he also refused to participate in any conversations about it.
“Do you think he’s afraid of his spot? Maybe we shout try a new spot?” We pondered a solution. Meanwhile, we noticed that each time we uttered the word SPOT, Luke would turn his head away and threaten to leave the room, as though to say, “I’m not talking about this.” Clearly, the subject was sore. 
Admittedly, his behavior led to some teasing from the boys in the house. “Hey, Luke – did you hang at your spot today? Where’s your spot, Luke?” His ears peeled back like a lamb’s. He hadn’t a proper comeback because he’s a dog. I became his voice. “Don’t push Luke’s buttons. He’s intelligent and he doesn’t appreciate sarcasm.”  
Luke had his reasons. He was about to enlighten me on them a few weeks later. My mother, one of Luke’s favorite people, had been eating a dish at the kitchen island. Oblivious to our rules, she complimented Luke, despite that he sat at her heels. Grammy loved Luke unconditionally. He looked up at her dish, then at me, and away, ashamed. Something in his expression struck me. He had learned that begging was socially unacceptable and impolite. Luke had outgrown his spot because he had grown closer to his family. He wanted to be included in our eating circles. Luke was a contributing family member! The drag away from the family table, then, felt belittling, counterintuitive to his emotional intelligence. Luke understood how we felt about begging but we failed to understand how he felt about being excluded. 
From now on, Luke has a place at the family table, and it’s right at our feet. 

Write to Amy – [email protected]
Follow Luke on IG – livingwithlukevalentino
Stay tuned for a story on Luke’s 2-year-old birthday, coming soon!