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What a Treat!

I drained the last dregs of my tea and put the mug down on the table. Jake the Dog, who was half asleep on the sofa, looked up with interest. “Is it time?” he asked.

I didn’t reply, I just picked up my phone and slotted my bluetooth headphones over my ears. “It is time,” said Jake the Dog enthusiastically as he recognised the signs. He bounded off to the front door. I followed at a more leisurely pace. Then I put on a hat and a coat. I took Jake’s lead out of the cupboard and I struggled to force my feet into my walking shoes. Jake was bouncing up and down with eagerness. “Get a move on!” he demanded. I slipped the lead around his neck and opened the front door. We went out into the cold, dark winter morning for our first walk of the day.

We trotted past a small island of lavender bushes and Jake took a long, leisurely sniff all around them, checking to see if anyone had left any pee-mail for him to read. I adjusted the volume of the audiobook I was listening to on my phone. Jake’s walks always take at least ninety minutes with frequent stops for sniffing and for the exchange of gossip with other dogs. I find this rather boring so I always listen to a story while Jake catches up with what’s been going on in the neighbourhood. That way we both stay entertained.

Once Jake had finished sniffing the lavender bushes he looked up at me expectantly. “Can I have a treat now, please?” he asked, sitting down in front of me and gazing up into my face with his warm, brown, pleading eyes. I tried to move past him, but he just shifted position, blocking my way again. “Pretty please?” he asked. “With knobs on!” He left me no choice. Clearly we weren’t going to be walking anywhere until I gave in to his demands. So I reached into my left hand coat pocket where the dog treats always live and I selected a small one. I tossed it in the general direction of his mouth. He caught it dexterously in mid-air, chewed thoughtfully for a couple of seconds and then swallowed. “Yum!” he said. He got up and stopped blocking my way, so we continued with our walk.

After a few minutes of walking interrupted only by the occasional necessity to sniff every individual blade of grass on somebody’s lawn, Jake decided that he really needed another treat. This time he tried a different tactic. We didn’t stop walking, but Jake’s whole body language changed as he padded along. His ears went back and his tail wagged furiously. Long strings of anticipatory drool dangled from the side of his mouth. He held his head at a very acute angle that enabled him to continue staring pleadingly at my face while simultaneously jabbing his nose at my left hand coat pocket, effectively covering it with dog slobber. He does this a lot, and many years of massive dog slobber are the reason why my left hand coat pocket is a distinctly different colour from my right hand coat pocket.

Jake was now concentrating so hard on my pocket that he stopped looking where he was going and as a result he slammed head first into a tree, which brought him to a rather abrupt stop. “You just walked into your favourite sniffing tree,” I said. “Why did you do that? Did you forget it was there?”

Jake shook his head. “I think somebody must have moved it when I wasn’t looking,” he said. “Give me a treat and then I’ll check it out.” I gave him a treat and then, true to his word, he sniffed long and hard all over the sniffing tree. When he’d gleaned every possible bit of information from it, he nodded with satisfaction. “Arlo says we need to go and see him,” he declared. “He’s really looking forward to having something from your treat pocket. Hurry up, he lives just around the corner.”

“I know where Arlo lives,” I said. “We see him almost every morning.”

“Oh yes,” said Jake vaguely. “I forgot. Bumping into the sniffing tree must have knocked the memory right out of my head.”

Arlo lives in a house surrounded by a high fence. Whenever anybody walks past the house he pops up out of nowhere to say hello, supporting himself with his front paws on the top of the fence while he barks furiously. Passers by of a nervous disposition have been known to shriek in surprise at Arlo’s abrupt appearance which always startles them out of their early morning, half-asleep reverie. Arlo is as effective as a cold shower at waking people up all the way. But Jake and I are used to his habits by now and we both enjoy saying hello to Arlo.

Sure enough, as we approached his house, Arlo’s face popped up above the fence. “Hi there,” he said. “Good to see you both again.”

“Good morning Arlo,” said Jake politely. “How are you today.”

“I’m treatless,” said Arlo sadly, turning his head to look at me. “What have you got in your left hand coat pocket this morning?”

“I’ve got dehydrated liver,” I said, “and desiccated sheep lungs and peanut butter crispies. What do you fancy?”

“Sheep lungs sound good,” said Arlo, so that’s what I gave him. He munched contentedly.

“Where’s mine?” demanded Jake. I tossed him a bit of dehydrated liver.

“Would you both like a peanut butter crispie for dessert?” I asked.

“Yes please,” they said simultaneously. So that’s what they got.

Once he’d finished his crispie, Arlo dropped down from the fence and hurried to the back door of the house. “Something important is happening out here,” he yelled at the top of his voice. “You need to come and see. Now!” Arlo returned to the fence to see what Jake was doing. The back door opened and Arlo’s mum appeared wrapped in pyjamas and dressing gown and yawning hugely. She had a plastic container in her hand. She knows the ritual. Jake jumped up to see her and now both he and Arlo had their front paws up on the fence. They sniffed each other sociably while they waited for Arlo’s mum to get the plastic container open.

“Good morning Jake,” she said. “How are you today?”

“Starving,” said Jake and Arlo nodded in agreement.

“Well, let’s see what we can do about that,” said Arlo’s mum. She took two treats out of the plastic container and gave one to Arlo and one to Jake. “That’s number one,” she said. Jake and Arlo both nodded in agreement. One is an easy number.

Arlo’s mum took another two treats out of the container and again she gave one to each dog. “That’s number two,” she said. Jake and Arlo both nodded, but two is a much harder number than one and Arlo looked a little puzzled. “How many are left now, Jake?” she asked.

Jake didn’t hesitate. “Just one,” he said. Jake is very proud of being able to count up to three.

Arlo’s mum burst into delighted laughter. “Oh, you are such a clever dog,” she said, giving him his third treat. Jake got down from the fence. He knew that was the end of the treats. Four is far too difficult a number, even for Jake.

Arlo had lost count long ago so he didn’t know whether he’d been given the same number of treats as Jake, but on balance he seemed to feel that he had. “Bye, Jake,” he said.

“Bye Arlo,” said Jake. “See you tomorrow.”

“Goodbye Jake,” said Arlo’s mum, putting the lid back on the plastic container. “Enjoy the rest of your walk.”

“I will,” Jake reassured her. “I expect we’ll meet Lexi very soon. That’s usually what happens next.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we saw Lexi and her mum walking towards us. Lexi’s mum always walks Lexi with an extendible lead. This allows Lexi to keep the maximum possible distance between herself and every other dog and person on the planet. Lexi is a very anti-social dog. She doesn’t even like herself very much!

Lexi’s mum smiled at Jake. “Hello handsome,” she said affectionately as she ruffled his ears. Lexi paid no attention. She doesn’t like her mum very much either, and so she really doesn’t care if her mum talks to other dogs. She just pulled her lead out to its maximum extent and then sat down in the middle distance staring at nothing in particular as she waited for her mum to start walking again.

Jake wagged his tail and gazed adoringly at Lexi’s mum for a few seconds. Then he turned to face me. “I’ve been a good boy,” he said. “I deserve a reward now.”

Lexi’s mum laughed. “That dog has a one track mind,” she said.

“He certainly does,” I said. “And he’s got me very well trained.” I reached into my left hand coat pocket for a treat.

We left Lexi and her mum to continue their walk and we continued on with ours. We were on the home stretch now. Ahead of us was a large grassy park dotted with interesting trees. I let Jake off his lead so that he could roam freely and investigate each of the trees one by one. He sniffed carefully at the very first tree and then he raced away across the park, completely ignoring my cries of, “Jake, come back – I’ve got a treat for you...”

I wasn’t worried. I knew what that behaviour meant. Maggie must be somewhere in the park. Jake and Maggie have known each other almost all their lives. They failed puppy training school together and both were considered to be a bad influence on the other students. They’ve been firm friends ever since.

Eventually I caught sight of them racing around each other in mad circles, each trying and failing to catch the other’s tail. Graham, Maggie’s dad, stood and watched benignly. Suddenly Maggie spotted me on the horizon. She abandoned her game with Jake and ran towards me, with Graham following on behind. Jake raced after Maggie. He knew what she was looking for and he didn’t want to be left out.

Maggie skidded to a halt in front of me. She plonked her bottom down on the ground and stared pleadingly at me. A couple of seconds later Jake arrived and followed suit. Since I was now outnumbered, I gave in and did exactly as I was told. I reached into my left hand coat pocket and gave each of them a lump of dehydrated lung.

“More, please,” said Maggie. Like Jake, she can count to three. I suspect that Jake has been giving her lessons. I gave each of them two more treats and they bounded off to play chase again.

“With any luck,” said Graham, “they’ll both do a lot of sleeping today after expending all that energy.”

Eventually Maggie and Jake calmed down a little. Their circles got slower and slower and finally stopped. The dogs came back to us again for treats and I put my left hand coat pocket to good use. Graham and I re-attached the dogs’ leads then we each set off for our respective houses.

When Jake the Dog and I arrived back home, he immediately dashed into the bedroom to tell Robin the Wife all about his morning walk. “It must be time to get up,” said Robin as she snuggled back under the covers, desperately trying to ignore what Jake was telling her at the top of his voice.

“I’m going to the supermarket,” I said. “Is there anything you need?”

Robin considered this. “Coffee,” she said, “and bananas. And I want a treat as compensation for making me get out bed.”

“Liver or lung?” I asked, reaching for my left hand coat pocket.

Robin gave me the kind of look that only a wife knows how to give. “Chocolate,” she said firmly.

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