Friday, March 9, 2012

Back to School

I've completed obedience school once in my life, in sixth grade with my golden retriever Simba. Notice I say "completed", not "graduated." Midway through "down-stay" in the final test, he got an itch, curled himself up, then returned to (gasp!) seated position.
So it's no great shock that I was timid about attending last night's first session with Colby.
My memories of obedience school aren't great. Choke collars (and yes, we called them that back then, no "prong collar" foolery) and lots of crying after corrections.
So last night, I loaded Colby up amidst a thunderstorm (which is already no small task as he. won't. get. in. the. car) and off we went to a Methodist church gym to master the art of sit.
The night began simply. The ladies who run the course clearly do it for love and enjoy seeing each other and new dogs. We began the night sitting in a circle on the floor.
First, there was the example dog, an extremely well behaved mutt, then us (totally tangled in our leash), a tiny white dog who napped the whole session, a 5-month old lab puppy, and a Irish something or other, a dog with long hair and a penchant for chewing shoes.
We shared doggie drama as we "massaged" our dogs for about 30 minutes. The point of this exercise was to relax your dog and get him comfortable with you touching every inch, including his tail, his paws, and around his mouth. As even the lab puppy collapsed in a relaxed heap, belly up, on the floor, Colby refused to be tamed.
He wined. Oh did he whine, as he does only when we don't allow him to go play with another dog. He worked himself into a drooling frenzy, then would either sit and lean against me or sit directly on my lap before deciding the solution to all things obedience MUST be standing on my shoulders.
Honestly, I think he was confused. What the heck was the point of being in this gym with all these other dogs and not being able to rumble? I somewhat agree.
Finally, he hiked himself as far across the circle as I'd allow him and sat facing me so that his prong collar, as we in-the-know people call it, squished his face up so that it was a complete mess of ears, fur, and snout. He sat like this for several minutes, as if to show the other people in the group, "See what she does to me? Torture!"
I, for one, was simply happy that he was still. Like my Mom told me once when I threatened to scream every time she brushed my hair, "Go ahead and scream. You'll pass out before you hurt yourself." That's right, Colby, keep mushing those ears and they just might stick like that.
The hardest part was that it was adorably cute, though I felt for sure it would be frowned upon to start documenting such rebellion on night one.
As they intro'd the class, one lady said, "At some point you will be mad at your dog. At some point you will wish you had someone else's dog. Do not compare your dogs."
Five minutes later, while Colby tried to eat the tiny white dog next to us as I struggled to keep my going-numb rump on the concrete floor, the room got quiet as they looked at me. "Does anyone want to trade with me now?" I asked? Colby gave another ear squish for good measure. I think he should've gotten points for waking the tiny dog up. Be present, tiny dog!
The next question they asked prompted the class's attention to turn to us again, "Does anyone have a hyper dog?" the teacher asked as Colby tied himself in a literal knot, one leg through the pedestrian lead on his leash, two legs tangled in full length of leash, prong collar closing in on neck. Luckily, he then found the treats in my bag and proceeded to try to eat through my canvas tote while still in a total tangle. Best of luck, bud!
"Oh, no", everyone said. They looked at me. "I have no idea," I said. "He just loves other dogs."
And he does! Everyone else shared these war stories of 4am wake-ups, dozens of eaten shoes, and vindictive bathroom breaks on favorite rugs. The worst thing Colby does is rub his back all over the green rug, meaning it has a slightly golden tint which, to be fair, could be removed if I just vacuumed more than once a week.
"Ask questions", they said, so I asked how to curtail the nipping/mouthing that goldens are prone to do, especially up one's arm and, if you're B, through one's hair.
My mistake, of course, was asking this question at an appropriate time while Colby was nipping his way up my arm and onto my shoulder. So while I did start to sweat profusely and try to mop up the slobber that was pooling in my elbow, I did not hear what on earth you're suppose to do until the very last thing, "just make sure you get on that now."
Basically, last night was a class in how to perform a phone interview while holding a newborn. You hope they'll be good and quiet, like they usually are, but they instead decide to imitate a hornet and work themselves into such a frenzy that we were both asleep by 9pm last night in the living room, much to B's amusement.
After the "relaxation" period was over, we got up and started working on "sit", which Colby knows really well. We learned about saying names and releasing, things that I think will really help, and then I got a crash course in the no-mouthing thing.
"How do I respond when he nibbles on us, again?", I ask?
"Like this," she said, literally fisting Colby in the mouth while saying STOP THAT. The key, apparently, is to a) make it no fun for them and b) remind them that you are in charge. If they bite you, you put your fist in their mouths, shake your hand slightly, and wait until he retreats from you.
Of all the things we worked on, I have to say, this one might be lifechanging. It doesn't hurt Colby. In fact, as my nuckles will tell you, it definitely hurts us more, but he stops. Immediately. And it doesn't make it a game, as the pushing or pinning can do.
By the time we left, Colby was exhausted. He came home, ate everything in his bowl, and collapsed, not to be heard from again. I made it slightly longer, until 9 when B came home from basketball, then made him read in the living room so I could sleep on the couch. When he came to get me for bed at 11, I thanked him for reading with me. He responded, "You didn't know I left? I left for like an hour!"
That boy has got to learn how to take some credit!

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