"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Mar 14, 2019

Old Dogs and New Tricks

When BC came into my life she was 9 months old; housebroken; and able to catch a ball or Frisbee like nobody’s dog.  She also performed the most basic commands if she wanted to, which she usually didn’t; but it never bothered me, because I’ve been ignoring commands most of my life, too.

BC was easier-going with other dogs when she was young, but I’ve mentioned she’s been attacked several times and became somewhat assertive vocally.  In order to facilitate more pet-sitting assignments I decided to enroll her in a Manners Class.

Sis was the first of many to joke whether the class was for BC or me; to which I readily admitted for us both, but probably me more than her.  BC’s better with kids than I am, and I’m the frightened one whenever we’re approached by a strange dog, on a leash or not; and surely she picks up on that.  I hoped that within a controlled environment both our confidence levels would increase.

The classes were one hour per week for six week. I quickly realized it was not to be the socialization I’d hoped for, for the dogs were separated by folding barriers most of the time; but figured whatever we could learn would be worth it, and it was.

BC growled once early on when a young Shepherd unexpectedly came up behind her, so she was pegged a Problem Child.  During our first class she had an allergic reaction to the new variety of training treats I’d picked up, and was scratching like she had the worst case of fleas. People were staring.  Her grooming wasn’t until Monday, so of course I felt obligated to explain all this to the class.

“That’s alright; I like scruffy looking dogs,” one trainer wryly commented.

Our biggest problem was that the wording of the commands were completely different than what I've used with BC for 9 years.  For example, if I want BC to walk alongside me we begin our steps with, Heel; and if she veers off I repeat the command.

But in this class Heel meant only to get BC positioned at my side, preferably seated.  Then Heel became Let’s Go; Lay became Down; and Down became Off. I was getting confused and we still had 5 weeks to go.

“Can I use different words?”  I shouldn’t have asked.  It always pisses Oregonians off whenever I ask a question, don't ask me why.

Yes, but with a follow-up which made me ashamed I'd spoken.  I vowed we’d follow the news rules, failing miserably.

“Hold the treat this way but don’t give it yet; grab the middle of the leash; give the (new) command; give the response; give the treat; give the release command.”

I’m 63.  Could you remember all that in the correct order?  I was never good at Tequila shots either, tossing the liquor in my face, tongue out, expecting the salt.  I relaxed once I realized that it really doesn’t matter WHICH words I use for commands in the future, as long as (we) understand the principles.

Peaches; Flat Tire; Mars ! 

became my battle cry.  Peaches represented their stationary Heel, in order for Let’s Go to remain BC’s command to Hit the Passenger Seat.

She drinks lots of water and all the treats in class left her parched.  Week 3 I’d forgotten the water container and only had a glass jar which fit in the cup holder in the car. Bad decision. I thought it was well out of the way but BC’s Pom-Pom tail...

CRASH.  I started to clean it up when one of the trainers ran over, shouted, NO, and pointed to the chair in the center of the room, prepped for the next demonstration.  I dutifully went and sat down, BC at my side.

“The Dunce Chair,” I announced, red-faced, to the rest of the class.  It took that gal forever to clean up my mess but I was impressed that after only 2 classes I immediately sat down when she pointed.  Totally worth the money.

When Graduation Day arrived, we were to perform for the class a trick we’d taught our pets.  BC’s never been a trick-kind of dog and won’t even shake hands, so after weeks of unsuccessfully trying this-and-that  I figured rather than attempt a half-ass Roll Over we’d do something she was good at:  catching the ball. I knew it was lame but it satisfied the requirement, and I didn't have to sit in the Dunce Chair again.

The class played Musical-Sit: just like it sounds, walking around in a circle until the music stops, and the last dog with its butt on the floor is disqualified.  All things considered, I was pleased BC made it halfway through our class of 8; but her crowning achievement was Musical-Down.  She’s such a lazy-ass and won’t sit when she can lay down, so she was usually the first one to hit the floor.

At this age, nobody expects much out of us anyway, so I whispered, “Make us proud,” and she did. It was down to two, which I’m sure in our case shocked the trainers completely; for when the music stopped for the final time I heard,

“Well, looks like BC.”  Up until then the dog who was ‘out’ was announced, so I wasn't sure whether we'd been eliminated until someone off to the side cheered, “You won.”

Yahoo!  I released BC and gave her some mental high-fives, dancing back to our seats.

“I didn’t realize you were so competitive,” one of the trainers teased.  Inside my head Amy screamed,

F___ youwe won,” but all I said was,

“You CAN teach an Old Dog New Tricks!”

P.S.  BC received a bag of good-quality treats for her effortless effort.  And the classes have helped tremendously, for neither of us are as skittish as before.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, and congratulations to the 'super student.' Nice photo of her with the certificate.


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