A/N: This little drabble popped into my head this morning and insisted on being written. Thank you to Frea O'Scanlin for graciously giving me permission to horn in on her Greater-verse and borrow a couple of her characters.
This is unbeta'd, so all mistakes are on me.
That Which is Greater: Man's Best Friend?
A chill wind blew and Chuck shivered, wishing he had worn a warmer jacket. All the other handlers obviously had much more experience at this than he. They wore heavy jackets and in some cases, even gloves. He was a southern California boy, through and through. What did he know?
They stood outside in a line, ten of them in all, a few feet apart from each other. He kept his eyes forward, watching the small, wiry woman pace in front of them. She couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds, but she gave the impression that she could, at any time, kick anyone's ass. The curls of her salt and pepper hair were tight and close to her head. Her blue eyes were intense and piercing.
She stopped pacing and stood in front of the group. "Welcome, handlers." Her smile did not reach her eyes. Chuck gulped. "How many of you here have done dog agility before?"
All but Chuck raised their hands. He looked at the other dogs sitting at attention next to their handlers: a couple of Border Collies, a couple of Australian Shepherds, a Lab, and a Boston Terrier. There was even a Puli, which looked like a mop without the handle. Then he looked down at Sir Chewbacca Bartowski the Fourth straining at his leash, trying to sniff at a smell left by some kind of critter. Chuck tugged at the leash, trying to reel Sir closer to him, but the giant dog wouldn't obey. What else was new?
Chuck bit back the groan that tried to escape. Sarah and Violet had been watching one of those dog shows on TV and it showed a feature of dogs running through agility courses. Without even breaking a sweat, the handlers guided the dogs over jumps, through tunnels, and across see-saws with nothing more than voice commands and hand motions. Violet then announced that Sir needed to learn to do that. Sarah, much to his dismay, agreed with Violet, pointing out that teaching the dog some discipline wouldn't be a bad idea. He reluctantly agreed, since Chuck had lost track the number of times he, Sarah and Violet had been knocked over and nearly licked to death by the exuberant canine.
Hope Knight, the teacher of the beginning agility class, walked over and stood in front of Chuck. "Your first dog?"
He nodded and gave her a nervous smile.
"What's your name, sir?"
At that, the dog stopped his sniffing and looked up at her. At least he knows his name, Chuck thought.
"Chuck Bartowski. And this is Sir." This time, the giant head swung toward Chuck.
"Welcome, Chuck. First thing. You need to be the alpha male with this dog. Does he know 'sit'?"
Chuck nodded, relieved that the dog at least knew that.
"Good. Here," she said, grabbing Sir's leash from Chuck's hand, "let me show you."
"I don't think that's a very good idea. He's kinda big and—"
It was too late. She was already walking away from Chuck, Sir pulling ahead of her on the leash. She did a quick about face and suddenly Sir was behind her. He trotted faster to catch up and as soon as he pulled on the leash in front her, she turned around again. They continued to walk back and forth like that for a couple of minutes. Soon, Sir was lumbering along right next to her left leg. She stopped suddenly, dropped her voice an octave and commanded, "Sit."
Sir stopped just as suddenly and dropped his back haunches onto the dirt. He looked up Hope, expectantly, hardly moving a muscle.
Chuck couldn't help it when his jaw dropped. What the—? How did she—? In five—? "Is that my dog?" he asked when she handed Sir's leash back to him.
"This dog just wants a leader." She was only half Chuck's size, but boy was he intimidated by her. No wonder the dog obeyed. "You need to be his leader, Chuck."
"Yes, sir—I mean, ma'am." He swallowed hard.
Addressing the entire group, Hope said in a loud voice, "Today, we're going to do some simple exercises. The most important thing you need to have with your dog is recall. When your dog is off leash at any time, and especially during agility, you need him to come. Every time. When you call them, they should come to you, fast, with no questions asked. He might be sniffing at the most wonderfully dead thing in the world, but when you call him, he has to run to you like you've smeared yourself with bacon grease and rolled in horse manure."
Everyone in the group chuckled knowingly, except Chuck. He was just trying to keep his lunch down.
"Okay, you," she pointed at a woman with long curly hair and an eager Border Collie, "go first."
The woman had clearly done this kind of thing before, since without any instruction, she handed the leash to Hope and walked off about ten yards. She turned and pulled out a big piece of cooked liver from a nylon bag clipped around her waist. In a bright, happy voice, she called, "Come, Sprite!" Hope held Sprite's collar, the dog's feet scrabbling in the dirt, trying to gain traction and get to his owner and that piece of liver. Hope egged the dog on, pulling back on the collar, which only served to get the dog more excited. When Sprite's owner called again, Hope let go of the collar and the dog was a black and white blur as it streaked toward his handler. It looked to Chuck like the dog was going to devour the woman's hand when it snatched the treat from her fingers.
All the other dogs were just as impressive in their recall practice as Sprite had been. It didn't look too hard, so when it was Chuck and Sir's turn, he felt confident that they would do just as well as the other dogs.
Chuck didn't have any liver, but did have a pocket full of dried biscuits that Sir loved, so when Chuck had gone his ten yards and turned, he took one of the biscuits and waved it to Sir could see it. Mimicking what he had seen all the other handlers do, he leaned over and called out in a happy voice, "Come, Sir!"
Sir pulled at his collar just like the other dogs had, straining against Hope who held him back. When Sir was barking with excitement, Chuck called him again. Hope released the dog who made a beeline for a wooden fencepost. He lifted his leg and relieved himself, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. All the other handlers watched Sir pee in silent horror. Chuck groaned and wanted to crawl in a hole.
Hope was not to be deterred, however. They managed to corral Sir, reset and tried again. That time when he was released, Sir chased a bird that had landed in the pen where they were working. The next time, Chuck held out a big piece of liver given to him by Sprite's handler and stood only five yards away. When released, Sir ran straight for one of the other handlers, put his giant, dirty paws on her shoulders and nearly drown her with his wet doggy kisses.
The rest of the class didn't go any better. Sir was having the time of his life, running, sniffing and peeing. He also failed to complete any of the tasks he was supposed to perform. When the class was mercifully over and as Chuck walked toward the gate to leave, Hope approached him. "Sir is obviously a very sweet and rambunctious dog. I'm just not sure agility is the right fit for him."
Chuck nodded and thanked Hope for her time. He was a little disappointed, but mostly relieved. He got Sir into the car and started home, Sir dozing after his busy afternoon. At least he could go home and tell the women in his life that he and Sir had tried. He could just picture Sarah's face when he had to admit to her that they had flunked out of dog school.
At least they were going to go out with a bang, Chuck thought as he pulled into the McDonald's drive-thru. "May – order – ?" the staticy disembodied voice asked through the speaker.
"One Quarter Pounder with cheese for me and a cheeseburger for my friend, here," he called into the box.
"Will – any — order?" came the reply.
"No, that will be all," he said.
"That – four—win—please."
"Thank you!" Chuck said as he pulled the car around to the first window.
Money was exchanged at the first window and a bag was received at the second. The smell had Sir standing in his seat. Chuck unwrapped the cheeseburger, tossed it over his shoulder without even looking and then watched in the rear view mirror as Sir chomped twice and swallowed. "Who's the best dog in the world!" Chuck called to the giant, furry creature. Sir answered by trying to grab the Quarter Pounder out of his hand from behind.
"Back, foul beast!" he said, throwing up an elbow to deflect the dog's advance. Sir dragged his tongue over Chuck's ear, snuffled once and lay down.
Chuck cocked his head and wiped his ear with his upper arm. "Just so you know, Sir, Sarah's the only one who gets to do that to me."
His comment fell on deaf ears. The only response was a deep, rumbling snore.