riley joined our family in late january 2002. he was four months old, skittish, shy, suspicious, afraid of everything. he never made eye contact. he went his own way. he bonded with boscoe immediately, but not with us.
his previous owners--the ones who had rejected him--had done some housebreaking, and he only had two accidents in the house, both within days of our bringing him home. the first wasn't really an accident--i looked around to let him out, couldn't find him, and then seconds later he bounded up from the basement, looking refreshed and cheerful. he'd have been whistling, if he knew how to pucker his lips. so i went down to see what he'd been up to, and found a small, neat pile of fresh turd.
well, it was good of him to look for an out-of-the-way place, anyway.
i knew that he needed obedience training. he didn't come when called, he didn't sit on command (though he did sit beautifully whenever he was waiting to be fed), and he definitely never stayed.
so i signed him up at dog days over on grand avenue, about four miles from our house.
getting him there was complicated. he was afraid of the car, and even a short trip became fraught with problems. i'd put him in the back of my subaru. he'd jump out again. i'd scoop him up and stuff him back in the car and try to slam down the hatchback before he could jump out again. he'd leap over the seatback and curl up on the driver's seat. i'd open the door to get in and he'd jump out ....
once on the road, things got even dicier. even though he was not yet bonded with me, he saw me, at least, as someone who might protect him when the chips were down. or maybe it was a matter of "better the devil you know." in any case, he'd crawl onto my lap and shiver in fear as i drove down lexington parkway. at first, i found this charming, if cumbersome. but as the weeks went by and riley grew, it started getting a bit dangerous. especially when he got a little bolder and decided to stand up. on my lap. i'd shove him to the side with one hand, while steering with the other.
we finally made it to dog days, walked in the door, and riley promptly screamed. the small front room was filled with bernese mountain dogs, who apparently had all been in the previous class. these are big dogs anyway--hulking and hairy--but from riley's perspective, they were enormous.
i have to say, classes did some good, but riley was not exactly a star. he was afraid of the instructor's dog--a german shepherd--and instead of using her dog to demonstrate techniques, she had to kennel him up, which did not exactly endear us to her. we learned clicker training--teach the dog a command, and when he obeys it you instantly click and treat. eventually, the theory is, the click sound alone is enough to reinforce the dog and you can forgo the treats. riley and i never got that far. he was obedient as long as he knew i had treats handy, and if i didn't, the hell with me, and the hell with the clicker, too.
the instructor said it was my fault for not clicking quickly enough, but the fact is i just couldn't click any faster. i worked on it at home, in the yard, in the park. if there were treats handy and he was hungry, he'd obey. no treats, no obedience, baby.
on our last class, we got to show off how much our dogs had learned. one by one, we got up in front of the class, made our dogs sit at one end of the room, crossed the room, and then called. and one by one, dogs bounded across the floor and leaped into their owners' arms.
one couple had taught their dog to come not at the standard command, "Come!" but at a high-pitched "ooooo weeeee, oooooo weeee!" their thinking was that at a dog park, crowded with dogs, it might be confusing for their golden retriever to hear "come!" shouted from people all over the park. but not many people would be caling "oooooo weeee."
they got up, made their dog sit, crossed the room, let fly with an "oooooo weeeeee!" and their retriever charged across the linoleum and leaped into their arms with so much enthusiasm he almost knocked them over.
and then it was riley's turn. i brought him to the end of the room. made him sit. he sat, nonchalant, as though he could take it or leave it. he looked around at the other dogs, the other owners, the scuff marks on the floor, everything but me. if he'd had a newspaper, he'd have been idly doing the sudoku.
i crossed the room. cleared my throat. it was do or die. "riley, come!" i called, with as much warmth and enthusiasm and hope as i could muster.
riley looked around the room in a bored sort of way.
and then the instructor said something that seared into my brain, flooding me with humiliation. "uh oh," she said.
that was as far as we made it in class. there were two more sessions, but we never went back. i continued to work with riley at home, and he's much better now--he comes when called, unless there's a squirrel or a cat in the general vicinity--but he's still pretty nonchalant about this whole obedience thing.
a couple of years ago, i saw the instructor and her german shepherd at the dog park when i was there with riley. riley, please obey me, please obey me, please obey me, i pleaded, sending thought waves in his direction. or, at the very least, don't humiliate me.
there were no incidents. riley raced around the park, zoomed up the sides of trees after squirrels, the german shepherd went swimming. i don't know if she recognized me or not. eventually she called her dog, who, i noted, did not obey her perfectly, and they got in the car and drove off.
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