LEADER OF THE PACK - Shari Elliker UNPLUGGED

I am a bad parent. I have raised ill mannered, over indulged, under disciplined children. They've never said thank you, never appreciated all the sacrifices I've made or all the money I've spent on them over the years. They tore up my house and broke many of my cherished mementos. I could tolerate their dismissive and rude behavior, but it was the lack of remorse over their nightly peeing on my sisal rug that really broke my heart.

I tried to discipline the dogs. But, I am so undisciplined myself that it became impossible. I heard someone mention some famous "dog whisperer" who can train even the worst cases. That sounded so easy. Even I know how to whisper. So, I started whispering my commands "Rex, stop licking my baked potato. " "Fred, mommy needs what's left of that shoe to wear to work. Put it down," I'd say in my most hushed voice. When my friend Marianne heard me doing this, she whispered to me, "You're an idiot. " Dinnertime with the dogs was like that scene out of "The Miracle Worker" when Helen Keller runs like a banshee around the table grabbing at any food she wants. I learned to eat with one hand on my food and one in a defensive position. I may have developed scoliosis from hunching over to eat from the center of the table, where I had to keep the food.

Even as a kid, my family dogs ruled the roost. When I came home from college, my mother sat me down and had a talk with me about Daisy, the Cockerpoo. (Could they have just called the breed a Spandoodle - a much less vulgar choice?) Since Daisy didn't get to go to college, they had given her my old room. She asked if I'd mind sharing with her, until I could afford my own place. "And, besides," my mother said, "The floor is carpeted. "

That was many years ago. I am older and wiser now and started talking about getting another dog. Marianne suggested, "You might do better with a cat- you don't have to train them. " A cat?? Please! If I wanted something to sneak around, ignore me and smell up the house, I would go back to my ex-husband. Cats are too judgmental. I would end up sitting in my car in the driveway until all hours and faking phone calls from friends just so the cat would think I had a social life.

I went ahead and adopted a beautiful new puppy, Stella, at the shelter. The first night I brought her home, while she nested on her imported goose down pillow and as I hand fed her organic, free range chicken, I made her a promise, "Stella, I'm going to be a great Mommy and give you the kind of discipline that dogs need and crave. And, since I have don't have the self-discipline to do that I will get help. Because you don't wanna be a spoiled little stinky winky poo bear, do you?"

I was on a quest to find the perfect teacher for Stella. I thought about asking for advice from my neighbor, Lizbeth, who has the most well behaved dog in the world. But that would mean actually communicating with Lizbeth, a hot shot realtor who is always working a deal and whose acne scars I one day realized were actually permanent indentations where her Blackberry presses into her face.

And, communicating with Lizbeth meant actually listening. . .to Lizbeth whose voice is so shrill - it's in the key of - ouch. Even Fran Drescher would laugh at her voice. But the strangest thing happens when she gets a phone call, her voice instantly drops 5 octaves from helium tank to Boris Karloff. And talking to Lizbeth means getting roped into her latest charity. She'll squeak, "Can we count on you for the walkathon to fight toenail fungus? It's only a 5k!" 5k, 10k, 401 k. . .like I know how long "K" is. (Psssst- we tried to learn the metric system in 6th grade- it didn't work! K?)

I was determined to find out how she got that dog to obey her. Granted, he's a poodle so he looks more like he was knitted than bred. And, how hard could it be to train a sweater? What do you do? Threaten to shrink it in the dryer? Nevertheless, Lizbeth is in complete control of that mitten. So, one day when Stella was walking me, I flagged down Minnie Mouse/Barry White and asked her what her secret was. She squealed the praises of her magical trainer, Deb. Big surprise- they met at a charity event – to raise funds for the crafting of more vegetarian pottery. Unfortunately, my poop bag was already full so I couldn't vomit into it. "Deb, "is ah-maaay-zing!" she croaked dropping into her alter ego Cher voice. She told me how Deb had transformed, her poodle, "Remax" into the magnificent robot dog that he is today. I looked down at him. He looked like a stuffed animal on a leash. "Remax?" I asked, "Is that a nod to your real estate company?" Then, Lizbeth did something I'd never heard her do: She laughed. Loudly. I checked my ears for blood. Stella's head was cocked so far to the right that I was afraid she'd need a chiropractor. She screeched, "Everyone asks me that!! But, actually, we had one Max and he died so we named the second one, (I finished the punch line with her) "Remax. " I secretly mouthed, "Run! Run like the wind!!" to poor little Remax. Thankfully Lizbeth's ubiquitous Blackberry rang. "I'll text you Deb's number!!" she squealed, just before James Earl Jones answered the phone.

I gave in and hired Deb, who from the front, looked a lot like my 8th grade gym teacher, Mrs. Krause, and from the back, looked a lot like my old social studies teacher, Mr. Anderson. Deb watched Stella and me interact for about a minute and-- much like Mrs. Krause watching me play any sport laughed out loud. Deb told me Stella thinks of me more as a peer than a leader. "So, I'm kind of like the cool mom, that lets the kids drink at her house," I bragged. There was a long pause. That analogy, she pointed out, usually ends with the mom in handcuffs getting into the back of a police cruiser.

OK, I had to become the alpha. As an exercise, I called Stella in from the yard. She looked up from the tulips she was dismembering, and I swear she rolled her eyes at me. She mouthed "whatever" and gave me the paw. Now I was mad. I marched outside, all Alpha-ed out, determined to get control. I no longer was going to be just some pack mate that she could dis. I am the human. I am the Master. "Stella you get in this house right now. " She was too busy digging up my herb garden to look at me so I said, now using my big voice and her full name, "Stella Maddox Pax Zahara Shiloh Knox Vivenne Jolie-Pitt you get in this house right now or no more belly rubs while I hold the raw hide so you can chew on it without getting your paws tired. " She listened and came inside. But, she looked scared and sad and like she didn't love me any more.

The trainer applauded. "You did it!" Yes, I certainly did. That's when I ran into the kitchen as fast as I could to get the most adorable little monkey in the world some of her most favorite yellow cheese to say I was sorry for being such a mean Mommy.

My phone was ringing so we ended our first training/torture session. Relieved I had a way out; I rushed in and answered the phone. "How's it going with the puppy?" boomed the voice on the other end. I was honest, "Not so great, Dad. " It was Lizbeth.