How good is Evil?

It’s another one. Another marketer’s dream. Another opportunity to lead the population by the nose into spending money in order to “celebrate”.

It’s Halloween!

But when and how did Halloween evolve into today’s Celebration of Evil? How did it make its way down to us from its origins as a feast commemorating “Saints”, defined “good” people? We seem to have ditched that positive aspect altogether and instead brewed up a confused concoction of Guy Fawkes November 5th activities and the November 2nd All Souls Day liturgies for the remembrance of the dead.

And shut up lest we “Spoil The Fun”.

We have managed to conjure up today’s Feast of Extreme Evils.

Why is it seen that it is o.k. for marketers to do this? And exactly how does promoting images of evil benefit society?

As a teacher I try to ensure that the messages I deliver are consistent. As a trainer of animals I know that it is essential not to cause confusion. Would parents be happy if their children’s school text books were filled with graphic pictures of brutality and death? No, because that might have a negative influence on how young people think. Yet we accept the exposure of children (and adults too) to all sorts of examples of evil during these weeks.

Why then does “Halloween” get a free pass with all its accompanying revelling in horror?

It’s because the marketers have decided that it must. And anyone who sees a problem with their money making strategies just doesn’t get the fun of it all. We all have to get with the programme. Decorate the houses. Explode the fireworks. Terrify the dogs. Torture the cats. Frighten the kids. Relish the evil.

And shut up lest we “Spoil The Fun”.

In Dundalk, Ireland, last week four schoolboys made the front pages of the papers. They had kicked a six week old puppy to death. Nice.

Yesterday, in Aberdeen, Scotland, a sixteen year old schoolboy was stabbed to death by another schoolboy during school hours. Shocking.

And in America, (where, incidentally, Halloween is enthusiastically celebrated) we are told that school shootings are not just the stuff of nightmares. They are, sadly, regular reality.

Most of the top sports competitors nowadays employ the services of a sports psychologist. Why? Because they are aware of the power of the mind and the images it can create and where those images can lead to. “What we focus on is what we get” and so forth. We have to be careful apparently about what we put into our heads.

It seems that the marketers can excuse anything now as long as it creeps around under the guise of “Halloween” promising to be “scary”.

And much of what is on offer is well beyond scary. Some of it replicates pure evil in every form. Why do we think this is acceptable? Is it actually good for us to see, as entertainment, the replication of rape and torture and beheadings and strangling and water boarding and even school shooting massacres?

All marketed for profit.

Why is this good?  And what is the total price that we may be  paying?

If blood and gore and suggested brutality are not acceptable everyday fare then why is it o.k. for these weeks?

Mixed messages for sure.

Clever Marketing abusing Children

Clever marketing also convinces parents (already hard pressed for cash and soon facing into the next, “Christmas”,  marketing drive) that they must splash out on shop bought, not home made, “costumes” for the big scare fest. No parent wants their children to be “left out” and very few parents seem to be able to think for themselves around it. Everyone does what the marketers tell them to do.

A recent post by one of my Facebook friends shows her son dressed in a costume that made him look as if he was holding his own head under his arm. Clever? – yes. Bought? – certainly. Appropriate? – not so sure. Isis anyone?

Last night, as I scrolled down the Facebook “news feed”, up popped, without warning, a close up photo of a “friend” showing him with a knife through his head and with a gory hole where his left eye should be. Realistic? – too much so.

Still “friends”? Nope.

No matter how wonderful he is with his creativity, I don’t need to look at such a replica of evil. Why on earth would I want to admire an image of brutality? Or why would he expect that anyone would?

The cashier in the bank today told me that her next door neighbour has a life size, realistic looking skeleton permanently placed at his upstairs window for the past week. Her kids are terrified of it every time they pull into their own front drive.

“Don’t like that” they whisper to her.

Sometimes children really do have much more wisdom than adults.

Maybe we should think a little more about how our relishing of horror might be affecting us.

There are plenty of horror stories on the news channels every night. I doubt if most of those who have starring roles in them it would think they are very suitable as entertainment.

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Computers don’t pay Tax

Our Irish Government Computer Con

The Irish government announced this week that they intend to invest 210 million euro in putting digital technology in Irish schools. They say they will do this over the next five years.

They say they will do it regardless of the fact that a recent OECD global study showed that using computers at school more intensively than the current OECD average tends to be associated with “Significantly poorer student performance”.

They will do it despite the fact that most schools in the country don’t have enough Broadband speed to be able to take any advantage of it.

They will do it because….

They will do it because the government needs to manufacture plenty of computer industry fodder or, as the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, put it on Irish radio on Wednesday,
“because the kind of job opportunities that are available to (Irish young people) will require these kinds of skills.”
They will do it because the government is not concerned with real education but only concerned with producing economic units.
In reality they will do it because it sounds Good.                                                                               They will do it because there is a General Election coming and because it sounds like something that will get them what they want.

The Irish government with their “Digital Strategy for Schools” is pulling the same con on the Irish parent that every kid in the country, with any smarts at all, has been pulling over the last twenty years…
“I need a new computer…for my Education”
Parents fork out and kid strolls off to his bedroom with a nice new laptop for Facebook.
210 Million? For a strategy that shows “no appreciable improvements in student achievement” in the basics of education. (OECD)

 Give us a break.

210 million would pay an extra 1000 teachers over the next five years. All of them would pay tax back into the Government coffers. And teachers won’t be out of date in five years time and want upgrading. And they rarely smash into pieces when you drop them on the floor.

210 million could be could be better spent taking parents and grandparents off trolleys in our hospitals and sending them back home to involve themselves in real education of their children.  Last night 71 people spent the night on trolleys in my local hospital (Drogheda) because they could not get access to a bed. Today saw Tony Fitzpatrick of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation stating on Irish radio that there is need to invoke the Major Disaster Plan for the hospital. I’d say Mr Fitzpatrick could find some use for that 210 million.

Irish Finance Minister, Michael Noonan,  recently declared that “we certainly should have every child with an iPad at five years of age”. Why? Because we must use our children to get us out of the mire we are in economically. Yes, he insisted “we must use the schools” to drive economic recovery. He said that he wants to run Ireland’s economy the same way that his “good friend” Wolfgang Shauble runs Germany’s.
Well, German kids spend less time than do Irish kids using computers in their schools according to that OECD report, Michael.
 Less time.  Not more.  Copy that?

The OECD report states that there is “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in Information and Communications Technology”.
But our Irish government is going to do it anyway.
210 million euro worth of it.

Just something to think about.

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Communication has many aspects, and one of those aspects, a most important one is  reflective listening. This piece first appeared in Irish Canine Press in August 20 14 in my column “ The Reality is …..” so it has many references to dogs and dog events. But it can apply to a wider context too…

Listen and Learn

Listen! Really listen. Do you ever do that at a dog show? Listen to what is being said around you? You can learn a lot by listening, you know. Listen to the words people use and then think about what they are really saying.
There are some people at dog shows who are really worth listening to. The Aged Breeder, for example. There are others who have nothing to say or who are simply boring (“What my dogs have won” or “Why my dogs didn’t win” are favourite topics here). There are The Gossips who do nothing but run down other people and dogs and there are The Negatives who will depress you and run you down if you stay in their company long enough.
But it is the actual words that are always so revealing. It is through their words that people allow us to peer into their souls.
Recently I was in conversation with a man who lives alone. He was contemplating getting a dog. He said he feels lonely in that big house all by himself. I told him that a dog is great company and he should give it serious consideration.
“But then”, he said, “I overheard a woman on her mobile phone yesterday. She had a dog with her on a lead. And yet, she said into her phone that she was there on her own”
And so, he argued, even if he had a dog he would still be alone. I countered that it surely depends on how you see your dog.
I told him about my friend Gina and about how she talks about her dogs. I told him about the words Gina had used to describe something to me recently. Gina had said that she had been out walking her three dogs when a huge jeep had passed them by spraying up a puddle all over them.
“The four of us just stood there” she had told me. “We were drenched to the skin. We had to go home and change everything”.
Now look at the words there. “The four of us”. “We”. No differentiation. All equals. Everyone had to go home, dry off and get comfortable again. This is someone who certainly would not feel alone in the company of her dogs.
Words show how we think
The words we use say more than we think they say. I noted at the recent Swords dog show how simple words can tell how we think about our dogs and their handling. I met an experienced dog handler who is competing in the Obedience ring as long as I am myself. I asked her if she had her new dog out competing that day.
“Oh, she’s here alright” she said, “But I just couldn’t get her switched on today. Neither inside  the building nor out here. I just couldn’t switch her on”
Note the “I” word here and that it is the subject of the sentence. Not, “She wouldn’t switch on today”.
There is significance in the “I” word. It tells us how this person regards her dog and her work with her dog. Here, “I” is responsible.
Compare this to a novice handler who complained to me a few days after that show about all the things that his dog did wrong. “He wouldn’t” do this at the show and “He wouldn’t” do that. The dog was at fault and the handler was consequently without hope. When we blame our dog we lose hope because we disempower ourselves. If we accept that we are to blame then we can learn to change (new method, new ideas, new approach…) and so we have hope.
We can’t replace the dog.
Around the show ring we hear similar telling words that reveal how people think. How many times have you heard “I won the Green Star today”?  No, you didn’t. It was the dog. Likewise, “He won thirty Green Stars for me”. Nope, he didn’t do that either.
And don’t get me started on “Give Mummy a kiss”. Because dogs don’t do kisses. But if they did do kisses they’d probably be …well, you know the rest. .

Words for dogs

I’m often astonished at the lack of understanding that supposedly “experienced” dog people sometimes display about dogs and words. For example, I was once penalised in the ring for giving an extra command to my dog in a Test A class where only one command is permitted. I had sent out my dog to retrieve using his retrieve command which was “Holdit!” I was told by the judge that this constituted two commands because …wait for it….it is “two words”.  Now, how on God’s green earth would the dog be able to tell that this was two words?!!! Dogs do not speak any English words. Plus, they can’t count. I had given one sound cue -“Holdit”. Not “Holdit…holdit!” which would have been two commands as I would have been making the same sound twice. I could have grunted like a
Neanderthal and as long as I didn’t grunt twice there was only one sound/word/command as far as the dog was concerned!
As the judge was an English lady I asked her, in my incredulity, if I had given the dog the sound cue in Irish (i.e. Tog e) would she have known how many words it was. No answer. Flummoxed I think was the word there.

Annual General Meeting words

Also interesting are words around A.G.M season (which will soon be upon us). Note the difference between…
“I got onto the Committee” (of the XXXX breed club) and “I was asked to go on the Committee”. Who here, would you say, has the interests of the club or the breed at heart? And who is there for their own reasons?
This would be the same self seeking person who “works” their way around a dog show speaking to those they perceive can be of use to them in the near future. They will tell you quite innocently afterwards that they “got talking to” X at the show. Not that they simply “were” talking to him. Subtle, I know, but…listen!
And remember, some people always have an agenda.
I find that when I have an upcoming judging appointment, for instance, some people do waste a whole lot of words on me.
I was quietly amused for many years when certain people assumed that I was on the Ard Comhairle of the Irish Kennel Club. It was always at autumn shows that these people would approach me, look me directly in the eye, state for me their “name” word and shake my hand. Vote catching for the upcoming I.K.C. elections! They always
struck me as quietly desperate. But I shook all their hands politely. And voted for none of them.
And then, my absolute personal favourite set of words…
“I want to pick your brains”

“I want to pick your brains”

That is so insulting on so many levels that I hope it doesn’t need further clarification.
What “Word” are we?
It was this awareness of words and their implications that prompted me to contact R. T. E’s Liveline programme last month. (   July 29th under “Dangerous Dogs”, for those interested). Somebody had used the word “Breeder” where they actually meant “Puppy Farmer”. Except that they did not know that this is what they meant. So I told them.
Words make all the difference. Calling some people a dog “breeder” is like calling Nidge a pharmacist. We need to watch the words folks. We are losing the “Breeder” word. It is becoming a reviled word where once it had a meaning that was due respect. We need to be watchful and to reclaim our word. It does not belong to the puppy farmers.
I am not sure what “we” are any more. People who breed “occasionally and ethically” is what I said on the radio.
Mind you, we can all slip up from time to time. Having not bred anything for three years our male Belgian Shepherd had his own ideas about that. He took matters into his own hands when he took a ten second chance with his own daughter who had given no sign of being in season.  Caught! Horror!!! Straight to the vets. Twice. But one little man survived both vet trips and made his appearance nine
weeks later! So I know “things” can happen. Accidentally. Unintentionally.
But it is a far cry from the “Lady” on UTV’s Tonight programme which was aired in the same week as I had my say on Liveline.
The undercover reporter asked to buy a particular number of puppies which were clearly to be taken into the U.K. illegally. No problem, says the good lady, but the man would need to buy more than he wished to order. Why? Because “They will die in transit”. From “The Stress”, don’t you know. Like buying plants. Always buy a few more than you need because there’ll always be a few dead ones.
See! Words again. They tell so much more than we intend.

The Reality is…

The Reality is…words say much more than we think they do.
And nobody will talk to me now at a dog show because they’ll be afraid I’ll be… Listening!

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Hey! Parents! Leave them kids alone!

Hey! Parents! Leave them kids alone!

Horse Show Week in Dublin is just over and the shops are full of “Back to School” signs. The end of the long school holidays is looming.

How many parents were driven to distraction because their children, off school, were “bored”?

Many children nowadays spend countless hours on the road being ferried to classes on everything from horse riding to harp playing. Even during the free school holidays there are “Summer Camps” everywhere on every sort of activity. It is important it seems that children are “occupied”.

But I believe that parents sometimes unintentionally disadvantage their children through occupying them.

By the time some children reach their pre teenage years one of their most common complaints is,

“I’m bored!”

And why would they think otherwise?  It has become the responsibility of someone else to provide entertainment for them.

Good parents naturally wish to give their children “every advantage” in life. This includes the opportunity to experience varied forms of leisure activities. However, idleness is a worthy activity too. It brings its own benefits. Doing nothing is also doing something.

Sometimes kids just need to be left alone.

By constantly hovering over every aspect of a child’s life we deny him the opportunity to be alone.  And to learn how to be alone.

Through my work as a teacher I have known many children who cannot content themselves in their own company. They do not know how. Perhaps they have never been left to their own devices for long enough to dream up their own amusements.

I have sat at parent / teacher meetings with women who whip out diaries and check on their child’s various evening activites and listened as they rattled off programmes of dancing classes and piano classes and football and band practice…all for one child. I get exhausted just listening to them.

Such children lose out on discovering how to be creative and they never learn how to be self reliant.

I don’t recall being ferried around to various forms of occupation when I was a child. It was not that I was disadvantaged. None of the other children in the locality were ferried anywhere either. And “Bored” was not a state we knew.

And so, I and my siblings, along with countless others of our generation, learned how to occupy ourselves. It was a part of life when you grew up in rural Ireland in the 1970s. The adults in our world assumed we had the ability to amuse ourselves. “Go on outside and play” was their most common strategy for defusing explosive family life. The adults never asked how we played or what we played with. It was just assumed that when you were a child you would automatically know how to “play”.

And we did know.

In August, when the Dublin Horse Show made the T.V. schedules, we built “jumps” out of bits and pieces we found around the yard. We built show jumping courses that would challenge the best of our imaginary mounts including, of course, “The Wall” made out of heavy, yellow hay bales. We had our “Water Jump” which insisted on leaching away through carefully spread plastic bags no matter how often we topped it up with full buckets. Many a heated debate took place over whether a brother or sister did, or did not, put a hoof in the water.   We were Harvey Smith and David Broom, the Shcockemole brothers and Eddie Macken.

We were cowboys and Indians and we were cops and robbers and we developed fertile imaginations and learned not to rely on an adult world to provide our entertainment. We knew how to provide our own and we kept responsibility for providing it for the rest of our lives. We were told by our adults to “play” and so, we learned to be creative, to be independent and to enjoy being alone.

Today, if someone of my generation uttered the words “I’m bored!”  he or she would be thought laughably  underoccupied.  Or just plain Sad.

As I walked along a country road one sunny evening this week and looked down from the raised tarmac into various roadside copses I was struck by the amount of lush undergrowth beneath all the trees. Briars and brambles and thick, inaccessible ground vegetation flourished everywhere. There were no signs of any tracks or little pathways among the trees. There was no evidence that any children ever play Hide and Seek or anything else in any of those wild and wonderful places any more.

Maybe all the kids were indoors playing games on their smart phones. Or else in some hard pressed parent’s car being ferried to … horse riding lessons?

With real horses.

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“Now, behave yourself!!!” came the final command from the adult as the young person walked towards me.

Another session with another youngster whose behaviour usually was “challenging”, to say the least.
“Behave yourself”
Why do we say such things to kids? Maybe to make ourselves feel more in control of a situation? “Behave yourself” is often just said as a throw away remark rather than with any real expectation of compliance.

“Behave yourself!” They are such imprecise words.

Generalisations help nobody. We need precision of  language and thought, if we are to teach well and help others to learn easily.

If such a command was heard with a thinking mind, the following questions might be asked:

With regard to what  specifically?
In exactly what way am I to behave?

I have found that the need to be precise is a hugely important element of teaching. We need to spend time in thinking and then in selecting Just One Thing that we will work on with our charge.

And it doesn’t matter if I am working with children or with dogs. The rule stands for both.


We need to select just one thing and then we need to show whoever we are teaching how that One Thing is to be achieved. The one thing chosen must be clear, precise, and achievable.

The imprecision of a “Behave yourself” approach allows the teacher to comment on everything, criticise everything, correct everything, try to control everything. Instead of confining attention to just one thing.  It also implies that the young person will know how to “behave” in every area. Some do not.

When working with dogs too we  need to select Just One Thing to concentrate on at a time. It is easier for the dog that way.

In the case of an untrained dog perhaps that One Thing might be the most immediately annoying behaviour…like not jumping up on people to greet them. So we might overlook everything else for now  and just concentrate on the “Four feet stay on the ground” one thing.
In the case of an unruly teenager I usually, at first, select something physical to work on. I overlook all the other (often equally annoying) behaviours and pick out Just One Thing.

It might be, for instance,  keeping personal possessions like bags neatly stowed under chairs rather than trip hazard death traps.Something that is easy for a person to notice and which is within his power to ameliorate. Something that we can all see and that we can be objective about…the bag is either under the chair or it isn’t. The coat is either hung up or it is not. (The dog’s feet are either on the ground or they aren’t.)

This is easy stuff. It allows for objectivity. There is little room for argument. Just one thing. And then,  later, another thing.  One step at a time.

When training in any area moves on into more elite levels it should still follow the same rule.
Pick just one thing out and work on it. The more skilled in any area we become then the more precise we need to be in selecting what One Thing we work on.

Golfers spend hours working on things like the one exact, precise angle they want to find with a specific club for a particular type of situation. Footballers practice sending the ball not just to any old place but to very deliberately chosen marks. When musicians play at a decent level they often practice a piece of music, over and over again, until their fingers can play those notes almost by themselves.

In training our dogs we should do the same. We should think  about what we are doing in training and then isolate something very precise and work on that with care and great attention to its detail.
Take training The Retrieve, for instance. The overall behaviour is roughly that our dog will run forward and pick up an article and return to us and deliver it into our hands. That’s simple.

That’s a minefield!

There are so many elements of so many behaviours contained in that exercise that we could be analysing and isolating them for days.
Not so long ago an accepted method of training The Retrieve was to get a wooden dumb bell and clamp your dog’s jaws shut over it. And then Hooooollllllllddddddd them shut.
Been there, done that.
Thankfully, most of us have moved away from such a Neanderthal approach to dog training but we may still need to reflect on  what we have replaced those methods with.

Are we always really conscious of the need for precision in our aims? Do we break behaviours down sufficiently into their most minute parts? Are we alert to reward the tiniest things the dog does?

Are we reflecting enough  in order to identify, isolate, and work on Just One Thing?

Or do we skip all the little bits, the tiny steps, and just toss the dumb bell out there and hope for the best?

“Hold It!” We command.

We throw out the words like a final exhortation to the Gods. A mixture of hope and desperation.

“Hold it! Hold it!!!”

The “Command” is a wish rather than the cue for a behaviour that we have carefully taught, one step at a time…

rather like…

“Behave yourself!”

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Training ; when Silence really matters

Training; when Silence really matters.

One of the things I notice most about people relating to other beings (human or animal) is the tendency to speak too much. In an age when keeping one’s own counsel is anathema to many people there seems to be a compulsion to “make noise”.

Around Ireland’s recent referenda there was simply too much “noise”. The ballot box is secret …for good reason. But daily, we were bludgeoned on the airwaves or on social media with the very loud opinions of others. “Shut up!” I eventually wanted to scream “We are adults…we can make up our own minds!”

Likewise, when it comes to training or teaching others we appear to have lost the capacity to shut our mouths. I see it regularly with those who own dogs and try to train them. They can’t shut up! They arrive someplace that is exciting for their dog…a dog show, a boarding kennels, a dog training class, the local park…and …they immediately start to talk at the dog.

Usually, they begin at once with the “Sit! Sit! Sit!!! Sittttt!!!”  litany.

Just this past week I counted one woman’s number of demands for “Sit” of her little dog. Eleven times.

Eleven times in a row, machine gun like, she told him to SIT. Eleven times he didn’t.

Why do we not just shut up? We really don’t mean SIT in the first place…we just mean “Behave!” or, more accurately, “For pity’s sake, please behave and look like you have a semblance of manners”.

Why not just let the dog alone and let him stand there and take in the scenery? Then nobody loses.

Same with more formalised dog training. Silence gets us further. I quite often tell those I work with that “Dog Training” involves a lot of just standing around and appearing to do not very much. But very often that is training. It is the training the dog needs. Doing nothing is doing something.

You teach the dog to simply stand beside you and wait. Wait in silence. Wait till his owner is ready to move. Wait in any position he likes (he can do hand stands for all I care as long as he doesn’t drag his owner around the place). Just wait.

And the owner? Just shut up.

How do I know all this? Because I had to learn it with my own dogs. I learned that saying nothing is often the most eloquent thing of all. It gives the dog the space and the peace and the silence to absorb information and to think.

The first dog of mine that I “trained” I couldn’t leave him alone. I constantly verbally prodded and poked him and commanded him and made demands of him…and I eventually just switched the light off in his eyes. The poor dog never got a second’s peace …because I was determinedly “Dog Training”.

Better now. A lot better.

And the people in our lives? Should we learn to offer them more silence too? Yes! We should.

I work a lot with young people as well as animals and I am often struck by how teaching the animals has affected me in my approach to teaching the humans. Sometimes, for instance, it is better to offer silence to a young person. Especially the more volatile ones. Sometimes, silence is a far more useful form of communication. It gives space.

When we are relating to another human there is often that pivotal moment when just one more sentence will tip a situation over the edge. As trainers/ teachers it is crucial to be able to recognise when we are balancing on the edge of a cliff. At those moments silence is often the safest offering.

I recall recently having managed to arrive at agreement about a Homework assignment with a young person and feeling quite relieved that conflict had been avoided. Unfortunately, another adult in the party decided that an opportunity for a lecture on the benefits of completing homework assignments had fortuitously presented itself and shouldn’t be missed. World War Three ensued!

I watched the fireworks with a mixture of sadness and frustration and words I had read somewhere came whispering into my mind…

”Wisdom is having plenty to say. And saying nothing”

“Training” my dogs taught me a lot of that sort of wisdom.

Working with dogs has helped me to understand that when it comes to training / teaching any other being Silence really matters. A lot.

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Manners …Children and Dogs

How do we teach a dog “Manners”?

Same way that we teach children. We show good leadership. We are consistent. We are vigilant and we persist until certain behaviours are “proofed” in the child or in the dog.

Some people imagine that a dog can be taught “manners” almost instantly. And they have scant understanding of what is appropriate in different settings. So people find themselves in a setting with their dog, say, arriving at a boarding kennels.  Another dog is standing close by and barking at the new arrival.

And the owners of the arriving dog ask their own dog to …sit.

Right in front of another barking dog!

And then they proceed to insist that their dog should “sit”. Actually, they insist on,

“Sit!….Sit!….SIT!  Sit-sit-sit!  SIT!!! ROVER!!!  WILL . YOU.  SIT!!!!!”,

(Rover rarely does sit…but perhaps he may do. On the tenth pleading).

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