The puppy in question was just one of several dogs belonging to the U.S. Army’s 187th Aviation (Assault Helicopter) Company, Tay Ninh, Vietnam in 1969/70.
I was a helicopter mechanic, assigned as a Cobra crew chief and thus a member of the Rat Pack, the gunship platoon of the 187th, otherwise known as the Crusaders.
The puppy wasn’t mine – didn’t want it. It was somehow acquired by my friend, army buddy, roommate and fellow Rat Pack member Joe O’Connell.
I thought it was a bad idea from the get-go as it was probably quicker and easier to take home a Vietnamese wife then a dog. I also thought it was a bad idea for Joe to become emotionally attached to something he couldn’t keep. Besides, puppies need to be housebroken – trained not to use your living quarters for a toilet.
O’Connell was from Southern California and so laid-back he was positively horizontal. He was taller than me, about 6′ 2″, and I remember him standing there like a great big kid, making his case for keeping the puppy. He said the puppy would be “no trouble at all” and “won’t make a mess” as I’d predicted; and even if it did, he’d clean it up, “… I promise.”
What with the war going on and all I had enough to worry about without having a yet-to-be-housebroken puppy under foot. I told him if the puppy made a mess on my side of the room I’d kill it.
It wasn’t fifteen minutes later that I found a sizable puddle right next to my bunk. Impatiently I grabbed the puppy and carefully held its muzzle to the puddle, making sure that it got some of its own urine in both nostrils on the inhale. I spanked it throughly on the hindquarters hard enough to make it yelp. I then grabbed it by the scruff of the neck just as its mother would and bounce-marched it away from the puddle, out the door, down the hall, and when I came to the screen door of the hooch I banged its head against it, opened it, and flipped it outside. It did a backward 360° somersault and landed in the then dry drainage ditch. The screen door slammed and I went back and laid down for a nap.
When I awoke from my nap it was back in the hooch. Not only was it back in the hooch – it was back in my room. Not only was it back in the hooch and back in my room but was sleeping comfortably on MY footlocker. (see the picture)
Contrary to my expectations, it never made a mess after that; neither in our room nor anywhere else in the hooch.
From that point on, whenever it needed to go, the puppy would sit by the screen door and whimper and whine until somebody’d let it out. About three days later the puppy wanted out and I became a bit curious as to just exactly where it was that it was going to the toilet, so I let it out and followed. It jumped down into the dry ditch just at the point where I’d tossed it previously and crossed under the plank footbridges. It followed the ditch, turned left at the corner and continued all the way to the far end of the hooch. Just at the 4-way intersection of the drainage ditch network the pup did its duty.
When it finished it came trotting back along the ditch pretty-as-you-please. It climbed out of the ditch and sat by the door, waiting for someone with bigger paws to open it. From that point on the puppy and I got along famously.
Perhaps it was because I’d possessed tidbits of prior knowledge about how to housebreak a puppy or the fact that I did it with vigorous conviction but I did not expect the lesson to take in a single pass as it did.
A dog has five senses just as we humans do but its connection to the world is primarily olfactory. A dog’s world is a landscape of smells. When I rolled its muzzle in the puddle of urine I made an absolute connection between it and the dog’s brain. When I spanked it I demonstrated my disapproval in no uncertain terms. When I bounce-marched it to the screen door I suddenly freed it and gave it a clear way out. I communicated with it.
From the pictures I assume it to have been female. I was never that curious.
The dog was still there with the 187th’s Rat Pack when I received my orders to return to the U. S.; its absolute fate unknown to me.