I haven’t seen the film, actually, or any of its sequels, but I get the concept. A lot of us would do bad things if we thought there’d be no consequences. Pondering “The Purge” the other day, I wondered: What would purge night for dogs look like?
That thought goes through my mind whenever I tell my dog not to do something he obviously wants to do. Archie is not especially naughty — no more than any other dog — but every pet lives to push the boundaries.
The secret to good behavior is constant reinforcement. Some of that is positive: a little treat whenever Archie sits or rolls over. But a lot of that is negative. We don’t punish him physically — the era of the rolled-up newspaper and the choke collar is over — but when Archie transgresses, My Lovely Wife and I let him know it. In the court of canine crimes, we are judge, jury and executioner. Basically, that involves saying, “No!”
For example: I’m walking Archie when he lingers for a suspiciously long time in a certain spot. He isn’t deciding whether to pee there — that’s allowed — he’s about to gobble up something horrible: a rabbit pellet or a half-eaten bird.
“Archie, no,” I say, pulling on his leash.
Or I’ll be sitting on the porch, an oatmeal raisin cookie on the armrest of my Adirondack chair, when a yellow snout rises like a U-boat’s periscope. I don’t know for sure that he’d scarf the cookie down, but just in case, I deliver a firm “Archie, no,” as I airlift the cookie into the safety of my mouth.
I’m sure Archie finds all of this incredibly arbitrary. Food must really confuse him. He gets fed on a strict schedule, three times a day. But he has to watch us humans graze whenever we feel like it. Sometimes we’ll open a kitchen cabinet and just stand there, staring, trying to choose between a granola bar or a bag of potato chips before taking out both.
Archie will gaze at us, incensed by the unfairness of it all.
I imagine food would figure in a lot of Archie’s purge-night fantasies. During those 12 hours when he could do whatever he wanted, he’d probably slather peanut butter on everything, not just on the one pill that we adulterate daily with the delicious, life-affirming goo.
In fact, Archie would help himself to whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. That oatmeal raisin cookie? Down his gullet. The fatty bits I cut off the lamb chop and push to the side of my plate, but deny him because of his delicate stomach? Down his gullet. That half-eaten bird? Down his gullet, then up his gullet.
For 364 days a year, Archie is not a counter-surfer. But on purge night he’d be up on his hind legs checking out whatever it is we’re making for our dinner, helping himself to copious samples.
And after we’ve made our dinner, he’d help himself to the grease splatter on the kitchen floor by the stove. We always try to stop him from licking the tiles. His slobbery tongue leaves cloven streaks that are gross to step on in bare or stockinged feet. But on purge night, we’d have to let Archie get his licks in. Those are the rules.
As we’ve settled down to an evening watching TV, who would be on the couch next to us? Archie, duh. Why should he have to sprawl on the floor at our feet when there’s plenty of space on the Ikea leather sofa?
Actually, he’d probably be sitting in my recliner, the spot I think he craves more than any other. One morning I found it covered in yellow dog hair and ever since I’ve piled books on it before going to bed so Archie can’t claim it.
On doggy purge night, he’d claw the books away and hop right into my chair. He’d probably change the channel to Animal Planet, too, if his paws weren’t so useless at the remote control.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.