Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Pepper and The Big Fail


IMG_0402Pepper and I had a heart-to-heart following her “graduation” from puppy training.  We went with our trainer to PetSmart, where Pepper was supposed to demonstrate all she had learned in the last three months, including sit, stay, leave it, drop it, come and compliant loose leash walking.  She was also supposed to show off her good manners towards people and dogs.

Well, Pepper had her own ideas about what she wanted to do at PetSmart – and they did not include sit, stay, or manners.  They did include leaping, bounding, jumping, and generally bringing her most enthusiastic party girl self to every encounter and every corner of the store.  Our trainer was disappointed, bordering on aggrieved.  What had we done with all she had taught us?  Had we practiced anything at all?  Peppy and I felt deflated.  We hadn’t done even one thing right.  We left in abject failure, tails between our legs.

“Pepper, what happened?” I asked in a whisper, nearly in tears, when we got home. “You know how to do all of those things.  You and I have worked on all of those things.”

“But… somehow I couldn’t do them when it mattered,” she replied, the absolute picture of doggy dejection.

“We failed,” I said.

“We failed utterly,” she concurred.

Adam Ross Photo by the excellent Eric England

Adam Ross
Photo by the excellent Eric England

We felt sorry for ourselves for a while, but then Pepper remembered an article she’d read at last week.  “At least we didn’t fail as badly as Adam Ross,” she said, “which is some consolation.”

“Peppy, I’m not sure that’s a very generous sentiment!  Are you talking about Adam Ross, former Harpeth Hall teacher, author of the acclaimed Mr. Peanut and Ladies and Gentlemen?  He’s had tremendous success…”

“Yes, that Adam Ross,” she replied. “And he had a lot of failure as a puppy.  Using the magic alchemy of the most gifted of writers, he turned it into a work of dark humor and encouragement, flavored with humility and tough love.”  She pulled out her ipad and began reading aloud:

“Generally speaking I’m a generalist.  I know a little about a lot, but at this moment of new resolutions and fresh beginnings, I offer my thoughts on the only subject in which I’m an expert: failure.

That’s right: failure.  Defined as follows: to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, or desired.  From the Latin, fallire: to disappoint or deceive.  I write these words as a man with a Ph.D. in failure, and I commenced my subject’s study on the day I decided to become a writer, a life-changing choice I made in 1986, after taking a creative-writing class my sophomore year at Vassar College.  How many times did I fail?  Let me count the ways.

I failed right out of the blocks.  My writing instructor that fateful sophomore year, Paul Russell, accepted me into his seminar based, he later told me, on one sentence I’d written – just one – in a very long story which was such a train wreck he was forced to take extended breaks to sit on his patio, a stiff drink in hand, and contemplate whether or not he’d wasted his life in choosing teaching as a career.  Spurred by his confidence, I wrote ceaselessly after that…”

Please check in at for the rest of Ross’s kickass essay on failure.

After Pepper finished, she nestled in close.  “I love you even when you fail at training me,” she said.

“And I love you even when you fail at listening to me,” I replied, giving her belly scratches.  We agreed that failure could lead many places.


  1. My favorite. Stories about you and Pepper. Don’t worry, my Sammy and Lily do not always mind me but who cares. They are still perfect to me.

  2. We all have our moments when we recognize our failures, and that is when we learn the most. As Bentley sits in the den gnawing happily on a bone and Lucky is still sleeping in like a teenager (or even older!), I’m grateful for you and Pepper. Stay warm and stop over next time you are on a walk.

  3. Lawrence, I love picturing you, Lucky and Bentley peaceful and content in your home this morning. I am so grateful for you as well. Pepper and I will happily stop in and bring lots of energy your way!! xo

  4. We spent an egregious sum to have a dog trainer come teach us to teach Bella important things during her puppy days and she didn’t retain any of it. Mostly because we didn’t practice it enough between his visits. Failure for sure. But at least she goes outside to do her business and loves her crate – the stuff we taught her before he ever came. Besides, she is so sweet and cute and she makes all of us laugh. Works for me!

  5. I’m laughing, Anne. Thank you (and Bella) for reminding me of the things that Pepper CAN do well!! Those are some very important things!! xo

  6. Oh yes, I know allllll about bounding and leaping (My recently acquired step-dog)! Lovely post. Failure is not really failure unless we do not pick ourselves up, learn the lessons, and move forward.
    I have a feeling that Pepper is the type of girl to do just that!

  7. You can’t blame a girl for getting really excited during a first outing to PetSmart. So much to do! And smell! So many people and dogs to greet! I’m sure she’ll do better next time when under less pressure….

  8. I love your stories about Pepper! We adopted a dog about the same time you did. When we brought him home last August, my son Adam says, “Let’s name him Pepper!” I thought with delay, “What about ‘Beast’, ‘Steel’ or ‘Max’?” His face started to frown, and I looked at him, “Adam, really? Pepper?” Guess who caved in? A week later I read your post about your newest family member coincidentally named Pepper. My children and I are starting to think, “Humm … Is your Pepper from the same litter at the Humane Society?” If so, it is a small word even in the canine sense. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You learned your lesson so keep training and you will succeed!

    • Louise, I can’t believe you have a Pepper too! How fun!! My Pepper came from Love at First Sight, picked up with her sister off the street, so she is truly a mystery girl. I love that Adam had his heart set on the name Pepper…that is sweet. Thank you for the encouragement, and please send me a picture of your darling! xo

  9. I have to add that I later clicked on the link and read Adam’s essay. Thank you so much for posting about it — I loved it. (He is a brilliant writer. I loved Mr. Peanut, which you might recall I read while on my honeymoon — probably not the most appropriate beach read! I can’t wait to read his next one!)

    • I’m so glad you read his essay and loved it, Caroline! I had forgotten that you read the disturbing Mr. Peanut on your honeymoon! I’ve just read Ladies and Gentlemen… will bring my copy to you at this book club or the next, if you don’t have it. xo

Leave a Reply