x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Teen Life: A few simple rules keep behaviour in check

With an unruly new dog, it's easy to establish authority. Too bad it's not the same for parents of teenagers.

I'm quite looking forward to the forthcoming movie Life of Pi, based on the book by Yann Martel. The novel tells the story of a zookeeper's son, Piscine (Pi for short), who is emigrating from India to Canada with his family and their animals. When the ship sinks, Pi finds himself in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean along with a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger that is bound to start feeling peckish soon. Using the tricks of his father's trade, Pi avoids becoming tiger fodder by establishing his dominance as the alpha male. Animals, it seems, are extremely receptive to firm body language and an authoritative voice.

The reason I'm pretending to have become an expert on animal behaviour is that I witnessed a similar situation recently. It was nothing as exciting as being shipwrecked with a hungry tiger, unfortunately; it was a golden retriever puppy training session – which is close enough.

My friend Anishka recently welcomed Romeo, an adorable fluff ball with silky ears, into the family. A dog can be a teenage girl's best friend, but Anishka quickly found that Romeo was equally good at chewing up her nicest Steve Madden stilettos and shedding hair all over the oxblood sofa.

She needed help urgently and found it in Rajiv, a dog behaviourist. I happened to be at Anishka's house during a training session and it was an eye-opener. "I don't train dogs. I train the family," Rajiv explained. The key, apparently, is being gentle but firm; dogs' keen sixth sense means you can't afford to give mixed messages or uncertain commands. Once Rover or Growler learns who's boss in the house, the days of an insolent wag of the tail when you tell him to stop eating your homework are gone.

The task for the day was walking around the neighbourhood lake. Romeo was on a leash, but that didn't stop him from struggling to dash off. Rajiv asked Anishka to stop every time the leash went taut so Romeo could learn to trot calmly. Progress was sluggish. "At least," Rajiv cheerfully observed, "your dog could teach you cartloads of patience." Raising a pet is no walk in the park - not when you have to stop 50 times before you've even walked a metre.

Equally frustrating was dinner time. We were compelled to slowly feed Romeo one small biscuit at a time when really one reproachful look from those soft, fudge eyes was enough to make us throw our arms around his neck and let him eat a whole truckful of biscuits.

The aim, of course, is to end up as the owner of the serene, poised pooch of Hollywood movies rather than the inconvenient thing stuck to the other end of the leash when the dog follows a cat up a tree. Follow a few simple rules and you're bound to become a Doctor Dolittle in no time - or even better, your dog's best friend.

If only, as Anishka's mum observed, it was as easy to use the same scant rules to keep teenagers in check.

The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai